SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - Gov. JB Pritzker announced guidelines for K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities to safely resume in-person learning for the upcoming academic year.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide public K-12 districts in Illinois with 2.5 million cloth face masks. All students and staff will be provided with a cloth face mask.

Pritzker said the guidance follows the release of industry-specific guidelines for Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan.

“Classroom learning provides necessary opportunities for our students to learn, socialize, and grow. The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated,” said Pritzker. “Today ISBE, IBHE, and ICCB are issuing guidance that will serve as baseline public health requirements and expectations for the return of in-person learning this fall in P-12 schools and higher education, including all public school districts, non-public schools, colleges and universities. In close consultation with IDPH, infectious disease experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and other public health professionals, the guidance focuses on keeping students, teachers and families healthy and safe. It recognizes that Illinois is a diverse state, and school districts and institutions of higher education across Illinois will face unique challenges in how they’ll operate within their communities.”

The Illinois State Board of Education received $569 million in federal funding from the CARES Act for K-12 education. About $512 million of that will go directly to school districts to address local needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remaining $54.1 million will be used to provide additional funding to schools in six categories: laptops and tablets, internet connectivity, virtual coaching for teachers, professional development and support for entities who cannot receive direct funds due to ineligibility for Title I.

Local education agencies must apply to ISBE to receive funding from the CARES Act. The amount received will be based on the number and percentage of low-income students they serve.

More than 580 local education agencies have already applied for this funding.

The guidance released for K-12 schools by ISBE and IDPH allows schools to bring students back to school buildings in the fall while keeping students and staff safe, Pritzker said.

To read the guidance, click HERE.

“Nothing compares to face-to-face interactions between students and their teachers,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “The dedication of Illinoisans to social distancing over the past several months has allowed us to plan to bring students back to classrooms this fall while keeping health and safety our number one priority. This fall will not be ‘business as usual’ in more ways than one. Our students will return to us transformed and hungry for knowledge that contextualizes current events. I urge schools to use summer to readjust curricula to honor these historic times and to continue to be diligent in following safety protocols.”

Each school district will decide how to implement the guidance based on its own student enrollment, school facilities, staffing, transportation, and technological capacity.

The IDPH requirements for schools to reopen in Phase 4 are:

  •     Required use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face coverings;
  •     Prohibiting more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space;
  •     Requiring social distancing whenever possible;
  •     Conducting symptom screenings and temperature checks or require self-certification that individuals entering school buildings are symptom-free; and
  •     Increased schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

To make sure districts are able to get the necessary supplies to resume in-person instruction safely, ISBE and the Chief Procurement Office Bureau of Strategic Sourcing have secured several joint purchase agreements that K-12 can use to get supplies at more competitive prices than if they were buying them on their own.

“In developing this guidance, we have put a focus on making sure in-person instruction is done safely and in an equitable way,” said Brenda Calvin, principal of Sauk Elementary School in Matteson and a member of the Transition Advisory Workgroup. “As a principal, I am looking forward to seeing students and teachers back in the classroom, and this document provides administrators across the state with the guidance and support they need to plan for the fall, no matter what their school looks like. I thank ISBE, IDPH, and Governor Pritzker for continuing to emphasize equity as we return to in-person instruction and for continuing to care for the well-being of all students in the state of Illinois.”

“The Phase 4 guidance for schools focuses on the unique context of the 852 school districts in the state of Illinois,” said Dr. Jennifer Garrison, superintendent of Vandalia Community Unit School District 203. “We acknowledge and thank the Governor's Office for the emphasis on local control. We must focus on the safety of our staff and students first and foremost and at the same time be creative in how we return to learning in-person, specifically in Vandalia Schools. The opportunity to have a seat at the table and bring the downstate rural voice to the table is greatly appreciated. As educators, we have had many challenges before, and now is our time to turn the challenges before us into a unique opportunity to innovate with a laser-like focus on equity."

“I am grateful that ISBE reached out to a variety of education stakeholders in developing this transition plan,” said Lindsey Jensen, 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year, member of the Transition Advisory Workgroup, and teacher at Dwight Township High School. “In these unprecedented times, we are each other’s greatest resource. Having a variety of voices at the proverbial table ensures that we are considering all facets of education so that we can equitably meet the needs of all students when they return to our buildings.”

When it comes to higher education at colleges and universities, the Illinois Board of Higher Education established guidelines for higher education institutions to safely reopen their classrooms.

When students come back to campus this fall, they can expect new prevention measures. These include social distancing, physical spacing, hand sanitizing stations, face covering requirements, and regular monitoring of students for symptoms of COVID-19.

Schools are developing policies around traffic flow, cleaning of public spaces, and staggered schedules for using laboratories, auditoriums and other group facilities.

Dormitories, cafeterias, libraries, bookstores, and other facilities on campuses will be subject to the approved guidelines.

“The path to personal success runs right through our schools, classrooms, colleges and universities. A good education means a good future for you and your families. When the economy rebounds, we want our students to be prepared for those jobs and that means ... stay the course and stay in school,” said Ginger Ostro, IBHE Executive Director.

The full list of guidelines is available by clicking HERE.

Guidance for Illinois’ community colleges will be based on where each institution is located and is separated into three main categories: general health and safety, instructional guidelines and student services.

Key recommendations are:

  •     In person education will require face coverings to be worn by faculty, staff and students.
  •     Community colleges should conduct health screenings on employees, students and visitors before each campus visit.
  •     Community colleges should take additional measures to ensure social distancing and safety as determined by the features of spaces, learning methods, and other factors.
  •     Each community college should consider the needs of vulnerable staff or students when administering guidelines.

 The full list of guidelines is available by clicking HERE.

Pritzker also said his administration is offering information and guidance regarding financial aid. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission offers assistance to students in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the recently launched Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid, a path to financial aid for undocumented and transgender students.

“The Illinois Student Assistance Commission is here to support students on their path to—or back to—college this fall,” said Eric Zarnikow, Executive Director of ISAC. “We continue to provide free resources to help students and families with college planning and financial aid through one-on-one assistance from the ISACorps members in their community, our call center, and the tools and resources on our website, at www.isac.org. If you need help completing your FAFSA or Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid or in seeking financial aid adjustments based on changed financial circumstances, or just aren’t sure how to find your educational path beyond high school, please contact us for assistance.”

Students in need of additional financial assistance should call the financial aid office at the colleges or universities where they are enrolled or have been admitted.

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