CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker is ordering all public and private schools across Illinois closed for the rest of the academic year to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Our students can’t go back to their normal routine,” said Pritzker, whose announcement came on the same day that Illinois had its biggest single day increase in COVID-19 cases. “Therefore I am suspending in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.”
“Trust me when I say this was not a decision that I made lightly,” Pritzker added. State health director, Dr. Ngoze Ezike said that while the COVID-19 curve is flattening, the state has not reached the peak number of cases.
The governor said the loss of instructional time could result in learning losses for students. “These challenges weighed heavily on me. My priority remains unchanged. How do we save lives during this very difficult time.”
He thanked teachers and parents for developing and continuing remote learning for the students. “I promise you, we will get through this,” Pritzker said. He had a message for the seniors and acknowledged the sadness they are feeling for missing out on milestones, like prom, pranks and graduation. “You will talk about this for the rest of your lives and you will go on to do amazing things. I am very, very proud of you.”
A source told CBS 2 that CPS leaders met with the governor yesterday to talk about school year, but the source did not provide any additional specifics. Pritzker joins several other states who have issued the same directive, including Indiana.
At an earlier news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she will be listening to any such announcement “with great interest.”
“We weighed in on what we thought would be the best thing for CPS given the fact that CPS is scheduled to continue classes until June 18. So we will see what the governor says.”
The Illinois State Board Of Education does not expect families to replicate the school day at home, said state education superintendent Carmen Ayala. ISBE has published guidelines for the amount of time for at home instruction, ranging from 30 minutes for kindergartners to two to five hours for high school students.
The state also plans to use federal CARE Act funds to provide more digital tools and devices for students who need them. “Closing the digital divide will be pivotal in fulfilling the agency’s post-pandemic strategic plan.” She said the state does expect the students will be behind academically when they finally return to class and will work with them once the normal school routine continues.
Each public school district also will receive CARES Act funding proportional to the number of low-income students they serve.
Lightfoot added that CPS has been working on contingency plans. “Once we understand what the governor’s announcement is, we will come out with communications to help students, parents and faculty and staff to adapt to the latest phase.”
Pritzker first ordered schools closed in mid-March, and the current stay at home order extended that to the end of April.
Lightfoot, along with Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago set up remote learning plans–which began April 13–to make sure students are getting their classwork, even if they’re not in schools. One of the big challenges was providing 100,000 computer devices for students who need them.
At the time the CPS e-learning plan was unveiled earlier this month, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said, “I hope we don’t have to use the plan longer than we anticipate, but we are prepared should that occur.”
Katie Bermingham, who has two daughters in CPS, supports the decision. “We have no idea what this pandemic will do over the next couple of months. To put our kids [and] all the staff that works with them every day, getting on public transportation and getting them to schools and all that is too much of a risk.”