The Illinois State Board of Education advised school administrators this week that they should prepare for the “very real possibility” that the state will extend the mandated school closure order beyond March 30.
No timeline was provided for such a decision, though the ISBE said it would be made in consultation with public health officials.
The information was provided to school officials in a “Statewide School Closure Guidance Webinar” dated Tuesday. In its PowerPoint presentation, the ISBE encouraged every school and district to explore continuous learning opportunities and implement those best suited to them.
Earlier this month, Pritzker announced that all public and private schools had to close between March 17 and March 30. During his daily press briefing Thursday, Pritzker seconded the ISBE’s warning of a possible school closure extension. He said that parents should be prepared for students to be out of school much longer. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Thursday that school would be out in that state until at least May 1. And on Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said parents should expect that state’s three-week closure to be extended. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has signaled he’s also considering keeping kids home longer.
Across Illinois, districts have mobilized to offer meals to students for pick-up at their schools, churches, public buildings, and even delivered to families’ doors. But bigger questions loom about how schools and students will be affected if the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates extension of the closure mandate by several more weeks or even through the end of the traditional academic year.
In its online presentation, along with preparing districts for a prolonged closure, ISBE suggested that they begin developing e-learning plans. The presentation did not offer a specific timeline for when the decision would be made, nor did it say how long beyond March 30 it would last if the closure is extended. Regional superintendents told The Southern that they expect to find out by the middle of next week.
Initially, ISBE said that school work conducted during the closure would not be graded, but that policy has been amended as the situation has evolved. The latest ISBE guidance says that school work can be counted, but only if it improves academic standing. It must not negatively impact students’ grades or academic standing.
Most Illinois school districts are providing online resources to parents to access educational materials so that students don’t regress academically. These are optional exercises for students.
School Districts are working on alternative educational opportunities for students without online access to distribute should the closures be extended
Speaking to reporters Thursday in Chicago, Pritzker and other state officials reported 134 additional COVID-19 cases and three new related deaths. In total, Illinois has reported 422 cases and four fatalities since January. Those numbers included one case each in the Southern Illinois counties of Williamson, Jackson and Washington. Local health department officials detailed the Jackson and Williamson counties cases Wednesday evening and Thursday morning respectively, but they are newly included in the state total Thursday afternoon. While the virus is highly contagious, the growth in reported cases is also partly due to greater availability of screening sites and testing.
Already, Southern Illinois University and some area community colleges have announced that they are moving to online and other distance learning platforms for the rest of the spring semester. SIU Carbondale also announced Thursday that it is canceling traditional spring commencement ceremonies. But institutions of higher learning are more equipped for distance learning, as most have been offering the option for years, even if not on such a massive scale.
Pre-K and K-12 schools face much steeper challenges with implementing e-learning. Questions also remain about about how to ensure students with disabilities receive the supports and services they are entitled to under the law.
ISBE has acknowledged these and other challenges in directing schools not to allow any coursework completed during the closure to negatively affect grades.
It should be noted that the situation is rapidly evolving and local school officials are doing the best they can to keep up with and adjust to the guidance from the state. Leyden and Norwood Park school districts have staff meeting to begin making contingency plans for at-home learning opportunities if the closure extends beyond March 30 as many expect.
Leyden schools are not currently scheduled to have students return until April 7th, but it is becoming more and more likely, that just as Chicago is not scheduled to reopen their schools until April 21, 2020, it is becoming clearer that the reopening of all Illinois schools will not occur until April 21, 2020 or later with consideration now being expressed that the Illinois schools will not reopen until August, 2020.