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Illinois Students Should Return To The Classroom This Fall, Gov. JB Pritzker Says

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide K-12 districts in Illinois with 2.5 million cloth face masks, since kids will be required to wear them in school.

Students at Chatham's Neil Elementary.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Parents overwhelmed by remote learning for kids and working from home may get relief this fall: Illinois will allow children to return to the classroom.

Gov. JB Pritkzer announced plans to keep kids, teachers and families safe in school Tuesday, saying the state has given guidance to school districts on how they can resume in-person learning this fall.

The districts will now use that advice to plan how they’ll bring kids back into classrooms this fall. They’ll work with local public health departments to determine how they can do that — and officials said school might look different than usual this fall because of limits on capacity and social distancing requirements, among other things.

Still, State Supt. Carmen Ayala said schools are heavily encouraged to maximize the amount of in-person schooling they offer to students, especially younger ones.

“Reopening in southern Illinois is not the same as in suburban or urban Illinois,” Ayala said during the press conference. “Families can expect more information from their schools and districts about what their local reopening plans mean for them.

“… This fall will not be business as usual, and we will update our guidance as needed … .”

Districts should also be prepared to return to remote learning if there’s another wave of coronavirus cases, Ayala said.

Hoping to curb the risk of COVID-19 spread, officials will require schools to have students and staff wear face coverings and use other personal protective equipment.

The state will provide K-12 districts in Illinois with 2.5 million reusable cloth face masks, which Pritzker said will be enough for all students and staff.

If a student or staff member does become sick with coronavirus, they’ll be required to stay home and isolate, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Contact tracers will identify people who were in close contact with the sick person and, if necessary, those people will also quarantine for up to 14 days.

Pritzker said the state worked with public health and infectious disease experts to craft back-to-school guidelines that stress safety.

“The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated,” Pritzker said. “I have every faith that as we look ahead to the fall, our teachers, our professors and our administrators will continue to do what they do best: dedicating their days to ensuring every student in this state receives the education that they deserve.”

The Illinois State Board of Education received $569 million in federal funding from the CARES Act for K-12 education, and the state is sending $512 million of that to school districts so they can address local needs in response to the pandemic. Other funds will be used for laptops and internet access, among other things.

Chicago Public Schools remains “committed” to its start date of Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, schools chief Janice Jackson said earlier this month. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she wants kids back in the classroom by then, but the Chicago Teachers Union said the district won’t be ready.

The state is also working with districts to acquire needed protective equipment at reduced cost.

The state’s guidance for K-12 schools:

  • Require use of appropriate personal protective equipment, including face coverings.
  • Prohibit more than 50 people 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.
  • Increase schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

Read the state’s full school reopening plan here:

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