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Illinois school districts encouraged to 'maximize' in-person learning this fall

Gov. Pritzker says IEMA will provide 2.5 million free masks to school districts

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In-person school will return this fall, but it “will not be business as usual,” Illinois State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala said Tuesday.

Schools in Illinois are being encouraged to “maximize” in-person learning this fall when the 2020-21 school year begins, while also requiring that everyone in the building wear a face covering. Gov. JB Pritzker said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency will be providing 2.5 million free masks to school districts across the state.

The Illinois State Board of Education released a 60-page report on Tuesday detailing what a return to school might look like.

Illinois’ 852 school districts must be prepared to transition to remote learning at any time, should the coronavirus pandemic surge this fall.

There will be no one-size-fits-all solution for school districts. Each district will have the ability to blend remote learning and in-person learning to meet its community needs.

“There are real challenges, there’s no doubt,” Pritzker said. “Schools are configured differently. The ability of kids to get to school in the morning is another challenge. That’s why remote learning is so important.”

Schools should prioritize in-person instruction for students under the age of 13 and those who have greater difficulty learning remotely. Schools should consider continuing remote learning for medically fragile students.

Districts are also encouraged to consider amending school calendars to include earlier start dates so the first term can be completed by the end of November, in the event there is a second wave of the virus.

“This may require some creative scheduling,” Ayala said. “We know our incredible teachers and school leaders are up to the task.”

The guidance gives school districts many options. Asked if districts could lose funding if they don’t follow the guidelines, Pritzker said, “There’s no effort here to look to punish people.”

Face coverings and social distancing

According to the ISBE report, face coverings are required by everyone in all public and nonpublic schools “unless they are younger than 2 years of age; have trouble breathing; or are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.”

It is recommended that schools require a physicians note for students and staff who are not able to wear a face covering due to breathing issues.

Teachers can use face shields so that students can see their facial expressions. Masks do not need to be worn outside if social distance is maintained.

Districts can stagger schedules for arrival and dismissal, as well as hall passing periods and meal times. They should consider having staff rotate through classes, rather than require the movement of students. Hallways and staircases should be marked as one-way.

Schools are also required to conduct temperature and symptom screenings for students, staff and all visitors entering school buildings.

In the classroom, desks should be rearranged to allow six feet of distance in all directions, if possible. Windows should be opened, if possible. Schools should also build in time for hand washing. Sharing of objects such as computers or tablets should be limited as much as possible, and objects cleaned between use.

Transportation and lunch

Buses can carry up to 50 individuals, and all individuals must wear face coverings. Students “must undergo symptom and temperature checks, which may include self-certification, before boarding a bus,” the report said.

Social distancing should be maintained whenever possible on buses. Assigned seating charts are recommended.

Should Illinois slide back into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan, only 10 individuals will be allowed on a bus.

The capacity limits are true of lunch rooms. Schools should consider having students take lunch in a classroom or outdoors. Classrooms would need to be disinfected following lunch.

What happens when a student or teacher becomes sick?

Districts are required to close off areas of a school used by a sick person until they can be properly cleaned. Individuals who had close contact with someone who tested positive should isolate at home for 14 days.

Close contact means someone who was within six feet of the individual for 15 minutes.

“Those measures would go into effect anytime somebody is positive,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

Schools should have designated safe areas to quarantine any individual who experiences COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’ve given a lot of guidance of what should happen in businesses, and that’s also true in schools,” Pritzker said. “People need to remove themselves, to socially distance and isolate.”

The complete report from ISBE is available here.

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