CHICAGO — In the latest extraordinary measure amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. JB Pritzker shut down Illinois schools for the rest of the academic year because of the “nearly limitless opportunity” to spread the virus inside classrooms.
Chicago Public Schools, which serve about 350,000 students, and all other Illinois schools have been closed since March 17 as part of efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus. Pritzker hesitated before to say if that closure will extend through the rest of the academic year, but Friday brought the news in-class learning is over for the 2019-20 school year for all 2 million students in Illinois.
“My decisions are hard ones, but they will follow the science,” the governor said. “The science says our students cannot go back to their normal routine.”
Pritzker said he knows students want to be with their friends and find joy in the routine of the school day.
“But it also opens up a nearly limitless opportunity for potential COVID-19 infection in a time when our health care workers, our researchers, our scientists and our first responders need to us to bend the curve downward,” Pritzker said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in advance of the announcement, said the district has worked on contingency plans since the start of the pandemic.
Students with CPS began distance learning Monday, with the school district sending out thousands of laptops, tablets and other devices so students could be better equipped to learn while not in class.
But because there is still a “digital divide,” with some students able to access internet easily while others cannot, and because students are facing “unprecedented circumstances,” Pritzker said he and the Illinois State Board of Education have recommended districts do not grade students this semester.
“Grades should deliver feedback and not be used as a tool for compliance,” he said. Later, he added, “There needs to be more understanding.”
CPS’ school year is set to end June 18.
Pritzker said he knows other programs that happen later in the year, like summer school, could still be held pending further decisions.
And Pritzker said he wants Illinois to enjoy end-of-year celebrations like graduation and prom, even if those events look different than they normally do, because they’re important to children.
“I hope we’ll find ways to celebrate even now or at least at the end of what would have been the normal school year,” Pritzker said. “We [can] find unique ways to do that online. And as soon as people are able to gather, I know there will be celebrations planned, and I look forward to that.”
The governor addressed the state’s students at points of his announcement, saying it was OK for them to feel sad as they miss teachers and friends during such an abnormal end to the school year.
“To our high school seniors … I know you’re feeling sad about missing the rituals of senior prom and senior pranks, senior nights and, of course, graduation,” Pritzker said. Hear it from me as your governor: There’s room for you to feel all those things, big and small. You will get though this, too. You will talk about this for the rest of your lives. And you will go on to do amazing things. I am very, very proud of you.
“And to children of all ages: This is a very strange moment you’re living in. Your parents and I didn’t experience this when we were kids. but I can tell you for sure 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.”
Pritzker and Lightfoot have said they’re looking at ways to ease social distancing restrictions and reopen Illinois and Chicago. But they won’t be able to lift the lockdown all at once, as that could lead to another spike in coronavirus cases.
The state’s stay at home order is set to expire April 30, though that could be extended. Pritzker said he hasn’t yet made a decision on it.
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