Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday announced that he has decided to suspend "in-person learning in schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year," closing Illinois schools as the state continues to fight the spread of coronavirus.
Read Pritzker's full announcement below.
Up until March 17th, your average school day saw 2 million students gathered in large groups in school districts all across Illinois. That’s 2 million young people who would meet up with their friends in the classrooms, hallways, during lunch, at sports practices and for extracurriculars – and then go home to their families, their guardians – seeing whoever they see, and going wherever they go, until the next morning when they do it again.
That routine is a source of joy for so many – but it also opens up a nearly limitless opportunity for potential COVID-19 infection in a time when our healthcare workers, our researchers, our scientists, and our first responders need us to bend the curve downward.
Folks, I’ve said time and time again, my decisions are hard ones, but they follow the science… and the science says our students can’t go back to their normal routine. Therefore, I am suspending in-person learning in schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
We know there are school districts with unique challenges, and we will work with them on any issues that may arise.
I know that many have felt this was inevitable – but trust me when I say, this was not a decision I made lightly. The importance of our schools and our in-person school days is not just a question of tradition and sentimentality, as essential as those things are – the shutting of in-person classroom time also risks a drop in instructional time, an extended window in which students can potentially experience summer learning loss, and an educational landscape in which some districts have more experience with remote learning than others.
These challenges weighed heavily on me as we came to this decision – but my priority remains unchanged: how do we save the most lives during this difficult time? The answer to that question leaves us only with the path forward.
Over the last month, Illinois’ schools have stepped up and faced the many challenges of COVID-19 with generosity, creativity, and a resolute focus on caring for students, parents and communities. I am confident that our schools will manage and expand the learning opportunities for all our children who will be working from home over the coming weeks.
Why am I so confident? Because districts of every makeup across the state have been hard at work doing just that for the last month already.
Like in Dallas City – a Mississippi River district on the border with Iowa where more than half of students have sporadic internet access or none at all. Dr. Michelle Lee, superintendent of Dallas City Elementary School District and La Harpe Elementary School District, has teamed up with the transportation director, bus drivers, and maintenance staff to personally deliver paper packets of instructional materials to Dallas City students – not only that, but on their route, they’re delivering meals to not just their young students but also older students in the area high school district, homeschooled students, and younger siblings. And Dr. Lee has teamed up with a local community organization to ensure meals keeps flowing on the weekend, too.
About 40 miles southeast of Dallas City and 40 miles northeast of Quincy, Superintendent Todd Fox has developed his own creative approach to supporting the Southeastern Community Unit School District, where 65 percent of students are low-income and nearly half of families lack reliable internet. Superintendent Fox is operating with paper packets as the base of their remote learning system so no students are left behind – or left alone. Teachers log all of their communications with students and parents in an effort to support their social-emotional health and cognitive development and submit their logs to the principals each week. In the words of Superintendent Fox: “We are making connections to ensure our children are not stuck at home – they’re safe at home.”
South of Metro East, Red Bud Community Unit School District Superintendent Jonathan Tallman has worked with local internet providers to expand free service to families in need, handing out devices to students without equipment of their own. Red Bud honored its graduating seniors on social media, and offered area parents the opportunity to hear directly from Red Bud administrators on Facebook Live.
And in Macoupin County’s Staunton Community Unit School District, south of Springfield, Superintendent Dan Cox has developed a remote learning plan for his P-12 student body that combines Google Classroom tools with offline continued learning kits, making the most of technology without being reliant on technology.
Be assured, Illinois’ students are in good hands. Our teachers and administrators are doing what they do best – stepping up to ensure every child in this state receives the education they deserve.
Remote learning looks different in each of our communities – and that’s encouraged. Personalization in education is a very good thing. Some rely on paper and pencil methods more than digital, and vice versa.
Schools should be checking in with students every day – that can be done by logging on to an online system, or by calling or emailing. Those check ins are not just about attendance – they help support our students through this difficult time.
And to begin the work of preparing our classrooms for students’ eventual return, I will be signing an executive order to modify licensing requirements for future educators who are nearly finished with their studies, like our student teachers, to ensure that this situation does not impact schools’ ability to hire the qualified teachers they need when students come back.
There is $569 million to support our K-12 schools from the federal CARES Act in response to COVID-19, dollars that can help equip students with technology and internet access to enhance remote learning, support teachers in developing their remote instruction skills, and assist schools in continuing to provide meals to children and communities.
Public school districts will receive a portion of this funding proportional to the number of low-income students they serve, and ISBE will direct the remaining funds toward supporting our districts that need these resources most.
My office and the Illinois State Board of Education is recommending that any grades given during this pandemic reflect the unprecedented circumstances in which students are attempting to continue their studies. That is, grades should deliver feedback and not be used as a tool for compliance. COVID-19 is forcing far too many of our students to deal firsthand with concepts that even adults find nerve-wracking. Let’s recognize that and be supportive of our students.
Before I turn it over to Dr. Ezike, I want to offer a few thoughts to some of the people impacted by this decision.
To the teachers who feel like they didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to their students – my heart is with you. Know that your efforts to reach your classrooms through new, creative ways mean the world to your students, and to me.
To the special education instructors who might be facing particular challenges in making meaningful remote connections with their kids – I know you’re working to build a unique response to a unique situation, and I am so grateful. We must continue to reach all our children.
To the administrators who have dedicated themselves to transforming their districts overnight and doing everything it takes to implement remote learning, whatever that looks like in your community – thank you. Every minute of instructional time you can keep running will make a real difference for our children.
To the parents who find themselves experiencing a whirl of emotions because of this pandemic – along with some extra stress with your kids at home all day, I promise you we will get through this… and I want to remind everyone of our Call4Calm emotional support line, a free way to anonymously connect with a caring counselor at a local community mental health center. Text “TALK” or “HABLAR” to 5-5-2-0-2-0.
To our high school seniors, who are leaving this phase of their teen years behind in a way they never expected – I know you are feeling sad about missing the rituals of senior prom, senior pranks, senior nights, and of course, graduation. Hear it from me, as your governor: there’s room for you to feel all the things, big and small. You will get through this, you will talk about this for the rest of your lives, and you will go on to do amazing things. I’m so proud of you.
And to children of all ages – this is a very strange moment that you’re living in. Your parents and I didn’t experience something like this when we were kids – but I can tell you for sure that the hard things we did live through, we learned from. And you’re going to learn from this. You’re going to see what it looks like when the world comes together, and what it looks like to put your faith in science, and research, and the teams of people here in Illinois and beyond who are working on treatments and vaccines to save lives. We will get to their other side of this, and that other side will be a place that appreciates the best of the before, but with a greater sense of compassion and connection. And the best part is that you are going to be the ones guiding us forward. All of you, with your creativity, your passion, and your care for others are going to shape our future. Let me be the first to say, I can’t wait to see all that you accomplish.