BBCHS school return (copy)

BBCHS English teacher Kyle Nevills sanitizes socially distanced desks in his classroom in August as teachers prepared their rooms for the start of the school year.

When schools had to abruptly close their doors last March and terms like e-learning and remote learning suddenly entered the conversation, many worried of the long-term impacts on students.

Frank Petkunas, assistant superintendent for the Iroquois-Kankakee Regional Office of Education, said many local schools are already looking at how they can mitigate pandemic learning loss, both through face-to-face and online interventions.

“That’s one of the big concerns they are all looking at right now,” he said. “How do we make sure that once we are back to full, face-to-face normal, we assess that [learning loss] and move forward with bringing kids back up to where their normal position would be?”

The Illinois State Board of Education has not yet indicated if schools will be required to offer remote learning for the 2021-22 school year as they were for the 2020-21 year.

ISBE is currently developing guidance on how districts can plan for next school year, which Petkunas expects will come out in the next month or so.

“Everyone is hopeful that we’ll be able to start the year in a more normal scenario, but again, it’s just wait and see,” he said.

The latest guidance released March 9 relaxed social-distancing requirements in schools to between 3 and 6 feet and encouraged districts to return to in-person learning as soon as it was possible to do so safely.

Many are already taking steps to move back to normalcy.

Bourbonnais schools recently returned for full days of in-person learning while still offering remote learning to those who want it through the end of the school year. Others, such as Bradley, BBCHS and Herscher have added time onto their shortened school days. Kankakee schools are working out plans to extend options for in-person, remote and hybrid learning into next school year.

“Across the state, you see that the needs are so different,” Petkunas noted. “When the state board has been making decisions about school, there’s been some challenges because in a lot of cases, it seems like maybe they’re considering schools that have not been in session.”

While some Chicago and suburban area schools have yet to return to in-person classes, that hasn’t been the case for many districts in the Iroquois-Kankakee region and downstate.

“A lot of our schools are not in the same situation,” he said. “We are ready to move in a different path than some of the suburban schools.”

Petkunas said regional schools seem to be anxious to get back to “normal” as much as possible.

“If they can be face to face, I think they would like to do that and meet any restrictions or requirements that are out there as best they can,” he said. “That’s what they have been trying to do all along.”

Illinois schools are being required to give standardized tests again this year, which is a federal requirement that was lifted last year.

While the state attempted to get a waiver for standardized testing this year, the U.S. Department of Education issued a waiver for accountability only.

This means school designations that were already in place will remain the same for next school year, and this year’s test scores will be used to measure student growth when factoring next year’s designations.

Just how serious educational gaps will be considering the loss in class time and straying from the traditional school format remains to be seen, Petkunas said, adding that local schools have been “very diligent” in reaching out to identify students in need and keep families as engaged as possible.

He also noted that, as many students in need have already been identified, interventions can continue over the summer and into the start of next school year.

“As it is in any normal year, there is gonna be some students that have a larger degree of challenges, and this pandemic hasn’t helped that situation.”


Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.