If and when kids re­turn to class­rooms this fall, face masks, tem­per­a­ture checks and one-way hall­ways are just a few of the pan­demic pre­cau­tions to ex­pect


Good­bye, field trips and per­fect at­ten­dance awards. Hello, one-way hall­ways, daily tem­per­a­ture checks and quar­an­tine rooms.

That’s some of what we can look ahead to now that Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave his ap­proval last week for schools in Illi­nois to re­open for in­class in­struc­tion this fall, en­cour­ag­ing schools to wel­come back kids and staff un­der de­tailed state guide­lines aimed at keep­ing them safe.

In Chicago’s new nor­mal, there will be face masks on ev­ery­one over 2, bans on hand­shakes and any other touch­ing, tons of hand-wash­ing and six-feet so­cial dis­tanc­ing re­quire­ments in class­rooms, on play­grounds and ev­ery­where else at school. Ev­ery­one who en­ters school build­ings will get tem­per­a­ture checks, too.

But how that all will work and what the rest of school is go­ing to look like are among the things still to be de­cided by school districts in the city, sub­urbs and statewide as schools face the re­al­i­ties of wel­com­ing back to class­rooms kids who are likely to be be­hind aca­dem­i­cally af­ter learn­ing from home all spring.

“The COVID-19 cri­sis shook our struc­tures of teach­ing and learn­ing to the core, but we have now an op­por­tu­nity to emerge stronger and to make last­ing changes in the ways we sup­port, teach, con­nect with and value each of the 2 mil­lion stu­dents in our care,” says a 63-page re­port from the Illi­nois State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. “This re­turn to school is not ‘busi­ness as usual’ but rather the con­ver­gence of a new re­al­ity in ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence in Illi­nois.”

Many school districts, in­clud­ing Chicago Pub­lic Schools, still are con­sid­er­ing whether stu­dents will even re­turn in-per­son for the 2020-21 school year. CPS and sub­ur­ban districts are go­ing through sce­nar­ios for bring­ing kids back to class­rooms all, some or none of the time, with gaps filled in by re­mote learn­ing.

The 200 Catholic schools in and around Chicago have com­mit­ted to full-time, face-to-face learn­ing in class­rooms come Septem­ber. Sur­veys found tu­ition-pay­ing par­ents over­whelm­ingly wanted their chil­dren back in class­rooms as long as that could be done safely, said Jim Rigg, su­per­in­ten­dent of the 70,000 stu­dents in the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago’s schools.

“We have con­fi­dence we can safely res­tart in the fall,” Rigg said. “Part of the strength of a Catholic ed­u­ca­tion comes from the daily in­ter­ac­tion be­tween stu­dents and teach­ers.”

He said that the ways Catholic school com­mu­ni­ties will wor­ship at Mass and other re­li­gious tra­di­tions will fol­low the COVID-19 rules that all churches are sup­posed to be prac­tic­ing.

The arch­dio­cese’s schools plan awaits ap­proval by med­i­cal ex­perts be­fore its de­tails will be re­leased, ac­cord­ing to Rigg.

Among the once-mun­dane de­tails that are be­ing con­sid­ered by school sys­tems are things like how kids and teach­ers will move through hall­ways in a way to limit the like­li­hood they’ll in­fect each other and where plas­tic shields need to be in­stalled.

State rules, which the state board re­leased Tues­day, rec­om­mend keep­ing stu­dents in the same class­rooms, rather than hav­ing them move from room to room for dif­fer­ent classes.

In­stead, the rules say, teach­ers are the ones who should be mov­ing.

The rules also say districts need to iden­tify ad­di­tional sub­sti­tute teach­ers to be brought in when their teach­ers be­come sick or need to quar­an­tine, and buy ex­tra sets of sup­plies and equip­ment — items that stu­dents used to be able to share.

Gone are field trips and awards for per­fect at­ten­dance or any other re­wards that “would dis­cour­age in­di­vid­u­als from stay­ing at home when they are ill.”

Back-to-school nights and ori­en­ta­tions are re­quired to be vir­tual. No more than 50 peo­ple can gather — which poses a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge for cafe­te­rias. And no­body should change clothes for P.E.

Whether stu­dent-ath­letes will be able to com­pete hasn’t been de­cided.

Schools will need to pro­vide a su­per­vised space where kids sus­pected of be­ing in­fected with the coro­n­avirus can be quar­an­tined un­til their par­ents pick them up.

Wher­ever pos­si­ble, the state rules say, classes and lunch should be moved out­doors — dur­ing the 1919 flu pan­demic, win­dows were kept open even in win­ter, which might help the youngest kids com­ply with so­cial dis­tanc­ing. Play­ground equip­ment can be used, but only if kids can play six feet apart.

And ev­ery­thing will need ex­tra san­i­tiz­ing. It’s a lot to con­sider, es­pe­cially for CPS, which had prob­lems keep­ing its schools clean well be­fore the pan­demic. And over­crowded schools, mostly in neigh­bor­hoods in the south­west and north­west, al­ready had lit­tle room to spare.

Nei­ther Mayor Lori Light­foot nor Jan­ice Jack­son, CPS’ chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, will guar­an­tee that stu­dents will re­turn to class­rooms. They’ve been work­ing for about two months on plans that in­cor­po­rate dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties for Chicago’s schools this fall.

“It’s our sin­cere de­sire to see as many stu­dents in school as pos­si­ble in the fall,” Jack­son said last week. “But we have to make sure that we’re plan­ning and that we have mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios in place to be able to ad­dress that.”

CPS plans to re­lease its plans in the next few weeks and then to al­low a few more weeks for par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers

to weigh in be­fore fi­nal­iz­ing any­thing. Ac­cord­ing to CPS, in­di­vid­ual schools will de­velop their own plans with their Lo­cal School Coun­cils.

Schools that can’t ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­one safely and would have kids come in part-time are sup­posed to pri­or­i­tize spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and English-learn­ing stu­dents who need ex­tra help.

Jesse Sharkey, the Chicago Teach­ers Union pres­i­dent, said teach­ers and par­ents want kids back in class­rooms. The union is ad­vo­cat­ing for a nurse in each school and smaller class sizes so ev­ery­one can safely dis­tance.

“Sci­ence tells us that this virus spreads by peo­ple breath­ing on each other in an en­closed space for an ex­tended pe­riod of time, and that’s an aw­fully large amount of what we do in school,” he told the Chicago Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Wed­nes­day.

In the sub­urbs, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has as­sem­bled a 60-mem­ber task force of par­ents, staff, and com­mu­nity mem­bers to plan for four dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios and a po­ten­tial school-cal­en­dar change:

◆ Re­mote learn­ing con­tin­ues for ev­ery­one.

◆ A hy­brid re­turn plan in which schools open for some stu­dents.

◆ Schools open for all with added hy­giene ac­com­mo­da­tions.

◆ Schools open with­out con­tact lim­its. District 65 of­fi­cials say they won’t likely know un­til late July which plan they will im­ple­ment.

It’s un­clear whether most K-12 schools will fol­low col­leges in mov­ing up start dates to squeeze in the whole first term be­fore Novem­ber, ahead of an ex­pected se­cond wave of the virus.

No mat­ter how dif­fer­ent things might look, Rachel Gemo, the prin­ci­pal of St. Bene­dict Prepara­tory School on North Leavitt Av­enue, said that doesn’t mean it will be worse.

“Ed­u­ca­tors are in­her­ently cre­ative and in­no­va­tive,” Gemo said. “They know what’s best for kids and stu­dent learn­ing. Yes, this is a chal­lenge. It was in­ter­est­ing to see how our teach­ers — just as across the na­tion, across the city, across the arch­dio­cese — how they re­sponded to make the best of a sit­u­a­tion and con­tinue the learn­ing and con­tinue the things that are im­por­tant.’’

So masks can be made to be fun, even if they end up part of the school uni­form. Hand wash­ing might be ac­com­pa­nied by songs. The paths that kids fol­low to safely move around class­rooms can dou­ble as “brain breaks.”

“The magic is still there,” Gemo said. “Kids are re­silient and cre­ative by na­ture. Pair that with ed­u­ca­tors who want to keep do­ing the right thing for kids.”


Chicago Teach­ers Union pres­i­dent



Stu­dents en­ter Roswell B. Ma­son El­e­men­tary School on the South­west Side in Novem­ber.

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