Facing an uncertain timeline for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, local school officials are holding virtual planning meetings and preparing for the possibility of closures extending beyond the tentative April 8 return date.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday that he was pushing back the date when Illinois schools could reopen another week from the previously slotted March 31.
These mandatory closures apply to all public and private schools in the state. Many colleges and universities, including Kankakee Community College and Olivet Nazarene University, have decided to hold classes online for the rest of the spring semester.
Meanwhile, most K-12 school districts are awaiting word from Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education on how to proceed with the rest of the school year.
Momence Community Unit School District No. 1 Superintendent Shannon Anderson said Friday’s announcement was unsurprising, and district leaders will resume planning efforts virtually this week.
“Frankly, we were surprised that it was only extended for as long as it was,” he said.
Anderson said that during the polar vortex last year the district was able to implement remote learning within a few days, so teachers have some familiarity with e-learning methods.
“We’ve experienced this before, and so it was more about dusting off the work we had already done and going back to this type of format,” he said.
Less experienced teachers have been collaborating with peers in their grade-level teams to make sure they have all the resources they need, he added.
“While [first-year teachers] might have very current knowledge in the way of what’s being taught in the colleges and universities, they don’t have a lot of experience applying those things to the classroom, and then you throw in a situation like this,” he said.
How well teachers deal with the uncertainty of school closures during a pandemic depends a lot on the individual, Anderson noted. He said he is looking into resources for teachers who may be struggling with mental health.
“If [the teacher is] someone that rolls with the punches fairly easily, then they can probably get over this hump,” Anderson said. “In addition to the health concerns in general, to be able to carry out your job during this, it can be a challenge to people.”
Concerns for students getting through the school year are also prevalent, with many what-ifs still needing to be worked out by ISBE and testing officials.
High school students meeting graduation requirements as well as AP course testing and SAT testing [which typically happens in April] are issues on administrators’ minds, Anderson said.
“These are all things that are going to have to be sorted out relatively soon so that we can understand as a school district, and our students can understand what it is that they’re going to have to do or not regarding those things,” he said.
Manteno Community Unit School District No. 5 Superintendent Lisa Herrod said in an email that the district’s main concern right now is for coronavirus to be contained so that schools are safe to open again.
“We recognize that things right now are out of our control, but we can do our best by providing a continuity of education to our students and helping to streamline the resources and supports that are available,” Herrod said in the email.
Herrod went on to say that the district created packets for elementary students and are utilizing platforms like Google Classroom to keep students connected with teachers.
“We will want to continue to show our students we are thinking about them, and our teachers will accept that challenge as well,” she said in the email. “We gave our teacher[s] in Manteno less than half a day to prepare, and we should be proud of the way our district and the other educators in this county responded.”