Pritzker announces return of in-person schooling this fall

Pritzkr speaks at a previous address in St. Clair County.

By Angela Simmons, Weekly Editor

Governor JB Pritzker and ISBE Superintendent Carmen Ayala announced the return of in-person schooling in the fall. There will be requirements to attend, including face coverings, temperature checks, and increased cleaning.

Pritzker said so far, children across the state have been able to return to daycare and summer camps, and begin youth sports, and they want children to continue to expand their normal activities.

Full guidelines,laid out in a 63 page document, can be read here.

“Classroom learning provides necessary opportunities for our students to learn, socialize, and grow. The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated,”said Governor JB Pritzker. “Today ISBE, IBHE, and ICCB are issuing guidance that will serve as baseline public health requirements and expectations for the return of in-person learning this fall in P-12 schools and higher education, including all public school districts, non-public schools, colleges and universities. In close consultation with IDPH, infectious disease experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and other public health professionals, the guidance focuses on keeping students, teachers and families healthy and safe. It recognizes that Illinois is a diverse state, and school districts and institutions of higher education across Illinois will face unique challenges in how they’ll operate within their communities.”

“In the event of a second wave of the virus, or a drastic change in public health metrics, schools must be prepared at any moment to return to remote learning” Pritzker said.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) received $569 million in federal funding from the CARES Act for K-12 education, approximately $512 million of which will go directly to school districts to address local needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ISBE has already received applications from 580 local education agencies for this funding, with the goal of purchasing a variety of tools and resources, including technology devices, WiFi hotspots, and health and safety equipment for schools in need. Local school districts also plan to use funding to hire mental health support staff to provide services for students, families, and staff. ISBE has approved 534 applications thus far and distributed nearly three million dollars in funds.

IBSE will use the remaining $54.1 million to provide additional funding to schools in six categories: laptops and tablets, internet connectivity, virtual coaching for teachers, professional development, and support for entities who cannot receive direct funds due to ineligibility for Title I.

To ensure Illinois school districts are able to obtain the necessary supplies to resume in person instruction safely, ISBE and the Chief Procurement Office Bureau of Strategic Sourcing have secured several joint purchase agreements that K-12 can utilize to obtain supplies at prices that may be more competitive than purchasing on their own. ISBE will continue to expand the number of purchasing agreements in the coming weeks.

“Illinois Emergency Management Agency plans to provide cloth masks to every student, teacher, and staff member in every public school district in Illinois. Over $2.5 million masks, at no cost to the districts,” he said, adding that the ability to have or purchase a mask shouldn’t prevent students from returning to school. The guidance does add that face shields should be considered by the schools so students and educators can properly read emotions.

Guidance For K-12 Schools

The guidance released by ISBE and IDPH today allows schools to bring students back to school buildings in the fall while ensuring the health and safety of students and staff remains the top priority. The guidance was developed in collaboration with 56 educators, superintendents, social workers, nurses, and other stakeholders from across the state.

“Nothing compares to face-to-face interactions between students and their teachers,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “The dedication of Illinoisans to social distancing over the past several months has allowed us to plan to bring students back to classrooms this fall while keeping health and safety our number one priority. School will look a bit differently than we are accustomed to, but our focus remains on ensuring each and every child receives a high quality education. As much as possible, we have tried to provide common and clear requirements, while preserving the flexibility of each school and district to develop a reopening plan that meets the needs of the community and the children that they serve.”

Each school district will determine how to implement the guidance based on its unique student enrollment, school facilities, staffing, transportation, and technological capacity. ISBE strongly encourages schools and districts to provide in-person instruction for all students, especially those under age 13, to ensure children have rich instructional environments.

The IDPH Requirements for schools to reopen in Phase 4 are:

Require use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face coverings;

  • Prohibit more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space;
  • Require social distancing whenever possible;
  • Conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or require self-certification that individuals entering school buildings are symptom free; and
  • Increase schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.
  • Require social distancing be observed as much as possible;
  • Require that schools conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or require that individuals self-certify that they are free of symptoms before entering school buildings; and
  • Require an increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

There are also requirements for higher education institutes, and students who are not medically able will not have to wear a mask. Schools should also discontinue reward programs for perfect attendance and should encourage students to stay home when they are ill.

Music students will be required to wear their masks while singing and participating in choreography, and band students may remove their masks only to play their instruments only when absolutely necessary.

Adjusting for skill loss

There will also be collaborative efforts between educators and families to help get students up to the standard of their new grade level, as well as to address learning loss during remote learning.

“Some regression during remote learning is expected,” the guidance states, asking districts to consider strong reviews during the first several weeks of school, expanding intervention programs, incorporating before, during, and after school tutoring programs, and having meetings, virtually when possible, with families to address needs of the student and what the family can do to help.

Hallway and Physical Education Guidance

Additional guidance includes limiting the number of students in hallways, and asking schools to consider rotating teachers rather than rotating students.

The guidelines also say “Suspend the use of lockers, if possible. Sharing lockers should be prohibited. If lockers must be used, consider staggering locker assignments and create schedules to stagger locker access to allow for 6-foot distancing between students. For example, students could be assigned to every other or every third locker depending on their width.”

Further, discontinuation of locker rooms is also recommended, and use of showers should also be discontinued. Physical Education should take place outdoors whenever possible or indoors with markings six feet apart on the floor, and shared equipment is not recommended, but should be disinfected between students if sharing is necessary.

Cafeteria Use

Only 50 people are allowed to be in the cafeteria at any given time. If districts could manage to stagger lunches, the cafeterias can still be utilized, or students can eat in classrooms.

“If possible, consider delivering meals to classrooms or having students eat outdoors while ensuring social distancing is implemented. If students eat in the classroom, consider how an allergy-free area will be provided, as needed. Additionally, the room should be disinfected after eating prior to resuming classroom activities.

Meals should be individually plated. Buffets, salad bars, and the sharing of food and utensils should be prohibited. Ensure that students are served all items, including items such as milk and fresh fruits, rather than having students help themselves. Consider using disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes). ”

The guidelines do not specifically mention recess, but they do recommend continuing to not use playgrounds, or to utilize them one classroom at a time rather than several classrooms mixed together.

Pritzker repeated that at the first sign of rising COVID-19 statistics, schools would revert to remote learning, and said ” I have every faith that as we look ahead to the fall, our teachers, professors and administrators will continue to do what they do best – dedicating their days to ensuring every student in this state receives the education they deserve.”