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Illinois schools to reopen for in-person learning this fall

Students from kindergarten through higher education institutions will be allowed to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year, including public and non-public schools

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Students in Illinois will return to in-person classes and learning for the upcoming school year. But while the coronavirus continues to be present in communities, changes will be in place and schools will need to be ready to return to remote learning, if necessary.

“Classroom learning provides necessary opportunities for our students to learn, socialize, and grow. The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated,” Governor JB Pritzker said during a live update Tuesday afternoon.

Students from kindergarten through higher education institutions will be allowed to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year, including public and non-public schools. The reopening falls in line with guidelines for Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as schools reopen, 2.5 million cloth face masks will be provided for all students and staff members at K-12 schools.

Face coverings will be required, social distancing will continue and large gatherings of more than 50 people will still be banned under the guidelines released Tuesday.

You can watch Gov. Pritzker's full announcement in the Facebook video below.

Guidance for K-12 schools:

The guidance for bringing students back inside schools was developed by a team of 56 educators, superintendents, social workers, nurses and other officials from across the state.

"This fall will not be ‘business as usual’ in more ways than one. Our students will return to us transformed and hungry for knowledge that contextualizes current events. I urge schools to use summer to readjust curricula to honor these historic times and to continue to be diligent in following safety protocols," said State Superintendent of Education Carmen I. Ayala.

Each school will be able to use the guidance to determine how it reopens based on its enrollment, facilities, staffing, transportation and technology capabilities. 

However, all schools will need to follow some rules for reopening.

These are the requirements for reopening from the Illinois Department of Public Health:

  • Require use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face coverings;
  • Prohibit more than 50 individuals 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; and
  • Increase schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

You can read the full guidance on the Illinois State Board of Education website.

Guidance for higher education institutions:

When students return to campus this fall, they can expect several safety measures in place, including social distancing, physical spacing, hand sanitizing stations, face covering requirements and regular monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19.

Dorms, cafeterias, libraries and bookstores are all expected to reopen.

Illinois education officials said universities are developing plans and policies for staggered schedules in commonly used spaced like labs and auditoriums. Frequent cleaning of public spaces also will be required.

The full list of guidelines for reopening colleges and universities is available on the Illinois Board of Higher Education website.

Guidance for community colleges:

The guidance for Illinois' community college takes into account where each institution is located. The guidelines are separated into three categories: general health and safety, instructional guidelines and student services.

Some of the key recommendations include: 

  • In-person education will require face coverings to be worn by faculty, staff and students.
  • Community colleges should conduct health screenings on employees, students and visitors before each campus visit.
  • Community colleges should take additional measures to ensure social distancing and safety as determined by the features of spaces, learning methods, and other factors.
  • Each community college should consider the needs of vulnerable staff or students when administering guidelines.

The guidance was developed in partnership with the Illinois Community College Board's Return to Campus Committee and was approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The full list of guidelines for community colleges can be found on the Illinois Community College Board website.

Illinois Federation of Teachers, University Professionals of Illinois, and Cook County College Teachers Union provided the following statement in response to the state's plan:

“We are disappointed that the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) failed to implement the guidance provided by higher education faculty prior to releasing their guidelines. It is our members who will be teaching, guiding and serving the students in institutions around Illinois and their health and well-being is our top priority

The guidelines released today fail to provide clear guidance on the testing of students and employees prior to the reopening and does not consider the social aspects of student life on campus. To protect our Illinois higher education communities, we believe that these aspects must be addressed before the reopening.

 We are committed to working with IBHE to help revise the guidelines that take into account the voices of its students and staff.  We want to make sure that every institution listens to its students and staff in developing plans to keep instruction going and the institutions thriving in the safest way possible. No institution’s plans will work if not developed in real partnership and we stand ready to assist our higher education faculty and staff in every community college and every Illinois university.”

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