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Update: DeKalb County schools prepare for closure following Gov. Pritzker's COVID-19 order

School districts scramble to prepare for remote learning following Gov. Pritkzer's order

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday that all public and private schools, will be closed, starting Tuesday, March 17, until March 30, because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

DeKalb County schools will begin e-learning Monday, so students won't have to come into the classroom, though buildings will not be locked down until Tuesday, to give staff and faculty a chance to prepare for three weeks of remote schooling.

Pritzker's announcement comes a day after he advised event organizers to immediately postpone – or better yet – cancel any events that could attract more than 1,000 people, as a safety measure because of the coronavirus outbreak. Many schools in northern Illinois had already begun announcing closures and moving to e-learning throughout Friday amid coronavirus concerns.

He said the decision to close schools statewide was done to strengthen social-distancing efforts, limiting physical contact in large crowds to deter COVID-19 spread.

DeKalb
DeKalb District 428 will allow students who need to retrieve school supplies or other items Monday to do so, but e-learning will begin Monday, and the building will close Tuesday.

"I'm extremely proud of the staff that I'm working with and how quickly they pulled together our e-learning platform so that our kids can continue to learn in an unfortunate situation," said D-428 Superintendent Jamie Craven.

All district buildings, after-school activities, extracurriculars, sports and any other district programming will be closed until March 30. The D-428 Board of Education meeting will continue as scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday, with a live-stream of the meeting available on the district website.

Craven said the district's e-learning platform (which will give students five days to complete assignments) didn't come from scratch, as district staff had previous plans to pilot the program at some point, though it was shelved. The district's digital capabilities are already in use, such as Google Classroom and Chromebooks.

For families worried about paying for internet, D428 recommends www.everyoneon.org, a resource for low-cost devices and free internet.

"For some of our staff, it's going to be a fairly easy transition," he said. "And for students because they are used to using these different portals as well. With that being said, this e-learning platform, this is our maiden voyage. There are going to be some hiccups."

Spring break will continue as planned March 23 through 27. Craven said during the closure, all buildings will be locked to the public and thoroughly deep cleaned.

There was no international travel planned for the spring, but some out-of-state field trips were postponed.

Not all staff are eligible to receive paid time off, though, Craven confirmed.

"Unfortunately we are going to have staff that are going to be impacted," he said. "We've been discussing with all of our labor groups how we can address that, and it's different for every group."

A majority of students in DeKalb are eligible to receive free and reduced lunch, meaning they are provided two meals (breakfast and lunch) while school is in session.

Craven said the district is working with Aramark, Barb Food Mart and the Illinois State Board of Education to plan a strategy for getting meals to families in need, though it won't be right away.

"When we are ready to provide meals, we will notify families," Craven said.

The DeKalb County Community Gardens announced Thursday they are also ramping up efforts to ensure families are fed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"It's unfortunate, because I know part of the school experience is after-school activities, fine arts, plays," Craven said. "It breaks my heart that those kid's aren't [getting that]. Hopefully when we come back March 31 we can get everything rescheduled."

Sycamore
Sycamore School District 427 will use e-learning days starting Monday, according to a Sycamore School District letter.

D-427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The district will close all of its buildings, which includes the OSCAR program – before and after school care for kindergarten through fifth-grade students who live in the school district. Spring break will continue as planned March 23 through 27.

All extracurricular activities including clubs, practices, rehearsals and Saturday School will be canceled beginning Saturday until further notice.

The students will have five days to complete the assigned activities upon their return to school. The e-learning days count as attendance days and will not need to be made up at the end of the year. Elementary school students will be marked present unless a parent calls them out sick. Students in middle and high school will need to log into their Google Classroom or Canvas account each day by 1 p.m.

All students from eighth grade through twelfth grade have been assigned a Chromebook to use at home. Students in sixth and seventh grade will be able to use their home computer to access their Google account, or they can pick up a Chromebook between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday from Sycamore Middle School. If the pick-up time does not work, contact Sycamore Middle School’s office at 815-899-8170 to make other arrangements, the letter states.

Elementary students’ e-learning assignments will post to the district’s website, www.syc427.org, by 9 a.m. each day.

“We appreciate your flexibility as we continue to navigate this fluid and rapidly evolving situation,” the letter states. “We are confident that our e-learning plan will enable students to continue the learning process in a meaningful way while prioritizing health and well-being.”

Genoa-Kingston
Genoa-Kingston School District 424 will close for students on Monday and reopen March 31. All school-sponsored and non-school sponsored activities are canceled through that period, which includes spring break.

D-424 Superintendent Brent O’Daniell said the district has prepared for the possibility of school closings beyond that, and instructed its staff and students to activate its Alternative Learning Plan before students left school Friday.

During the student absence, the district will run its school board approved Alternative Learning Program through March 30.

Building staff notified students before school ended Friday that they should have either a “packet of homework to work on for five days, or should have a digital device to engage in online learning,” the release states.

“This will be the method of instruction for all students during this period of time,” the release states. “If there comes a time that this instructional method is interrupted or changed, we will notify everyone in as timely a manner as possible.”

Because the closure was also approved by the district's Board of Education and the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, the five days – March 16 through March 20 – will not have to be made up at the end of the school year, according to the release.

O'Daniell shared his thoughts about Pritzker's decision to close all K-12 schools in Illinois.

"[I've] never seen anything like this in 24 years in public education," O'Daniell said. "The speed at which things have changed is unprecedented. I support any effort to keep our students, staff and community members safe and out of harm's way."

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