All K-12 schools in Illinois will remain closed until at least April 7, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s latest address on statewide coronavirus precautions.
Pritzker announced Friday afternoon that he is extending the tentative date students can return to physical classrooms from March 31 to April 8.
The Illinois State Board of Education has indicated that days missed during these mandated closures will count as “act of God” days, meaning students will not have to make them up at the end of the school year.
Gregg Murphy, Superintendent of the Iroquois-Kankakee Regional Office of Education, said school districts across the region have been working directly with families to determine how to serve the needs of students during an extended school closure.
This has included preparing e-learning plans to teach students at a distance and offering free breakfast and lunch programs.
“Immediately our thoughts are toward impacts on students, and right now I see our schools thinking in terms of, ‘How do we allow students to continue to promote to the next grade or graduate from high school?’” he said. “We are seeing our districts being creative and proactive so we can continue educational momentum for those students, and continue to allow those students to move to the next level.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to trying to teach students outside of the resources of physical classrooms, he said. E-learning strategies vary widely from district to district.
So far, the ISBE has asked for e-learning lessons to be enrichment-based and not count toward actual grades, but an extended closure means that likely will change.
Kankakee School District 111 Superintendent Genevra Walters said the district has been developing its version of an e-learning program, called Learning Anywhere, Anytime, for the past two years. District 111 administrators and the Kankakee Federation of Teachers are collaborating on plans for what the rest of the school year might look like if closures extend past April 8, she said.
“We know that it’s possible that we will return, but we also want to be prepared for the possibility of not returning,” Walters said.
Some of the topics they are working through include reaching students who are unresponsive to teachers online, making sure students receive technology support, delivering materials to students and keeping all district staff members working, even if it’s in a different way.
“People think because we’re not in a school building you don’t need the same staff members, but the way we see it the whole community is now our school,” Walters said. “We’ll need more staff members to communicate with families and students.”
Walters said the district plans to assign additional staff to check on how high school seniors are doing through this process.
“I’m really concerned about senioritis,” she said. “It’s one thing with senioritis if you have to come into the walls of the building. It’s another thing when you’re senioritis is in your home when you have a little more comfort and you may be tempted to play games or do other things instead of your work.”
Bradley Elementary School District 61 Superintendent Scott Goselin said the district plans to continue providing grab-and-go meals and creating as many opportunities as possible for students to engage in their at-home assignments. Administrators will also be having discussions on how to proceed if the closures extend beyond April 8.
“I’m glad to hear it’s only going to be one week of an extension as of right now,” he said.
Murphy said he hopes people will feel the same pride he does when seeing how district administrators and teachers are responding to this unprecedented situation in a professional manner.
“We think of ourselves in Central Illinois as having a small-town mindset in many ways, and we are seeing that right now as different people step up and contribute to help support our schools, our students, our families,” he said. “That’s nice to see.”
CSL Behring, one of the world leaders in pharmaceutical research and manufacturing, is offering its services to governments around the world to aid in the battle against COVID-19.
Earlier this week, the Australia-based company — which has a massive manufacturing plant in Bourbonnais Township and is Kankakee County’s largest manufacturing employer with 1,700 employees — said it would lend its expertise, technologies and facilities to help support rapid, scaled development of vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus.
The company also made the offer to the World Health Organization.
“We offered our assistance to governments in a number of geographies in which we operate over the last month,” said Maureen Powell, CSL Kankakee site head of communication. “We are engaged with several of them, including the United States and Australia.”
In a CSL news release, the company noted it is exploring development of a hyperimmune serum that could be derived from the blood plasma of people who have recovered from the coronavirus. Once an adequate number of recovered patients is identified, it would be the company’s hope that it could begin to collect their plasma and create a hyperimmue serum — enriched with COV-19 antibodies to use as a therapy.
Although much research and testing is needed, the thought is that antibodies found in the plasma of now-healthy coronavirus patients could potentially be used to boost the immune response of those who are struggling with the infection.
As we are all learning, the virus causes flu-like illness in many, but those who are older — mostly those 60 or older — have additional medical conditions and are at higher risk of health complications and even death.
Kankakee County officials noted just Thursday that the county had its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The man, who is in his 70s, is in self-quarantine at his home.
CSL officials noted they would need government assistance to locate recovered patients as possible donors of their antibodies.
CSL noted its core business is the development and large-scale manufacture of plasma-based therapies, recombinant proteins and influenza vaccines. CSL is the largest global provider of plasma-based therapies for chronic, life-threatening conditions such as hemophilia and primary immunodeficiency.
“Though CSL isn’t directly working on a coronavirus vaccine, our scientists are available to consult and collaborate with other teams,” the company noted in a press release. CSL researchers are providing scientific and technical production advice to coronavirus vaccine research teams at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Kankakee County Auditor Jake Lee won the Republican Party’s primary over challenger Brandon Meredith in Tuesday’s election, but Lee could still face opposition in the Nov. 3 general election.
The Democrats didn’t field a candidate in the primary, but that may change for November.
“I believe so,” John Willard, Kankakee County Democratic chairman, said when asked if the party is looking to slate a candidate for the general election.
Willard said it would be done before the June 1 deadline.
“There’s a one-week slating period,” he said. “It would be done during that slating period.”
Do the Democrats have a candidate in mind?
“I do not, but we have a search committee that will also be looking for county board candidates and whatever vacancies there are on the ballot,” Willard said.
Lee defeated Meredith in what arguably had to be the highest profile auditor race in the history of Kankakee County. Lee said he was caught off guard by the interest the race generated.
“I was very much surprised,” said Lee on election night.
Lee has been in a constant struggle over differing interpretations of the state law regarding the auditor’s role in county finances. Lee’s interpretation of the law differs from what has been the rule in Kankakee County government and has been a point of contention among county officials.
In the primary, Republican voters gave Lee the edge in nearly every precinct, with Lee taking 55 percent of the 7,822 votes cast. Will that be enough momentum to defeat another challenge in November? That remains to be seen, as well as if the Democrats can unearth a worthy candidate.
“We have candidate searches all the time as we should,” Willard said.
There’s also a possibility that an independent candidate could emerge. All of those won’t be known until the June 1 deadline passes.