CHICAGO (WMBD) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday announced all schools in Illinois are to close beginning Tuesday.
Pritzker said schools will close to students from Tuesday through March 30 due to the spread of COVID-19.
“All of these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations when it comes to food access, safety, childcare, and social services,” Pritzker said. “We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move with urgency. I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family, your friends, and your community. One small step at a time, we will get through this together.”
As the governor detailed the move, the CDC announced the total number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois has reached 46. There have been no deaths associated with COVID-19 in Illinois at this time.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is working with state labs and hospital partners to significantly increase testing capability. At this time the administration believes testing can be sufficiently increased to ensure the minimum level of surveillance testing needed to appropriately monitor the spread of the virus.
Pritzker said he is continuing to pressure the federal government for more tests to allow the state to deploy full surveillance testing.
Pritzker said his administration is working to ensure critical support functions remain available to students across the state, including access to food, child care, and safe environments.
The governor said school administrators that the state will issue no penalties as a result of this closure. The Illinois State Board of Education will be fully staffed over the coming weekend and during the closure period to work through individualized issues and challenges in each district to provide support to school districts across the state.
On Thursday, the ISBE was granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing meals to students in non-group settings. Students receiving free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches will still be able to receive grab-and-go meals each day, with some districts having the ability to deliver and others offering parent pick up.
The Department of Children and Family Services is working closely with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health to ensure emergency and preparedness plans are in place to keep youth in care and staff safe. All DCFS group homes will remain open and take extra safety precautions.
The Illinois Federations of Teachers President Dan Montgomery supported Pritzker’s decision.
“We support Governor Pritzker’s decision to close Illinois schools to prevent further spread of COVID-19. This is an historic and difficult decision, but it is the responsible action to ensure the health of our students, faculty, staff, and communities.
Teachers are creating learning opportunities to keep children engaged and minimize any learning loss, but COVID-19 has revealed deeper issues that need to be addressed. The austerity budgeting of the last years is coming home to roost and now we are paying a public health price. We must learn from this. About how to better protect our teachers, staff, and students by providing paid sick leave and a nurse at every school – which is a public health issue, not just a moral one. Bridging the digital divide so that e-learning can be fully incorporated at all our schools has to be another top priority.
The IFT will continue to monitor the situation and work with the governor’s office and help locals work with their schools’ districts to support students in every way.”The Illinois Federations of Teachers
President Donald Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. Trump said he was also giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients.
Peoria Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, said the district is prepared to feed all district students.
She understands the issues lower-income, families may face as a result of the closures. Dr. Kherat said the district will provide meals starting Tuesday, March 17. Grab-and-go lunch and breakfast will be available at Manual High School, Richwoods High School, and Peoria High School.
We’re here for our families, but we also have to comply with the mandate and what we have done is we have spent a lot of time putting a solid plan together that is compassionate and doable.Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Superintendent, Peoria Public Schools
Dr. Kherat said Peoria Public Schools has also been piloting a learning anywhere E-Platform for the last two years. She asks that families join E-Learning from March 16 to March 30. She said there will be options for all students including those who do not have access to the internet or have special needs.
I’m disappointed that we’re at that stage because you think about the idleness that kids will get involved with or could. You know for us and for a lot of our students we provide a safe haven, we provide the meals, we provide guidance, we provide support.Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, Superintendent, Peoria Public Schools
However, Dr. Kherat said providing learning materials to students during this closure was the next best option. While the kids are away from school Dr. Kherat said she hopes that they will be productive.
“We want them to stay away from the television and stay away from the video games and do a lot more reading and a lot more writing,” Dr. Kherat said.
Students do not have school on Monday, but the staff is required to come in from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. They will continue putting a plan together to serve kids with special needs.