As the rapidly-spreading omicron variant fuels a surge in COVID-19 cases, calls have grown throughout Illinois for school districts to reinstate remote learning.
At least two Chicago-area district - Niles Township High School District 219 and West Chicago District 33 - have shifted to online instruction, particularly due to staffing issues brought on by COVID infections and employee absences.
Despite calls from the Chicago Teachers Union and some parents, Chicago Public Schools welcomed students back to the classroom from winter break Monday, saying its COVID policies will ensure safety among students, faculty and staff.
After voicing concerns with the district's testing strategy and overall COVID strategy, CTU announced it plans to gauge support for a district-wide remote learning action later this week.
Statewide there are no plans to reinstate online learning as the decision is typically made at a school district level.
When asked whether he believes a shift to remote learning is necessary, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday "the best thing" is for students to be in school safety.
"I've said all along that it's better for our students to have them in class," he said. "But safely, and so that's why we've provided and offered testing and we've offered and provided more vaccinations. And so we hope that school districts across the state will take us up on that. Many have."
In support of its stance on classroom instruction, the Illinois Department of Public Health cited a study from the Centers for Disease Control that found remote learning can be challenging for many students and lead to not only learning loss but also worsening mental health.
"The majority of students need full-time in-person access to their teachers and support network at school to stay engaged, to learn effectively, and to maintain social-emotional wellness," IDPH officials said. "Restoring full-time in-person learning for all students is essential to our state’s commitment to educational equity."
While health officials continue to widely recommend in-person learning, there are situations when remote learning is advised.
For instance, if a large outbreak occurs within a school, a temporary closure, referred to as an "Adaptive Pause" by the Illinois Department of Public Health, can be implemented by district officials.
During the short-term closure, a school would pivot to remote learning to allow time "for the local health officials to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 situation." The decisions should be made at a local level by both school district leaders and the local health department, according to IDPH.