Illinois Board of Ed votes to require schools to return to full in-person learning this fall

Coronavirus

The Illinois State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to require all schools to return to full in-person learning next fall.

“This resolution supports the return to full in-person learning when the school year begins this fall with the exception of students who are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and are also a quarantine order,” State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala said. “I also recognize that every school district has had unique experience with remote learning…but it’s necessary for us to transition toward a future in which we are no longer under a gubernatorial disaster declaration and the pandemic remote learning statutes no longer apply.”

Chicago Public Schools has been planning for a full return to mostly in-person learning next year for months.

In a statement released after the vote, CPS said, “We are pleased that ISBE is guiding districts to provide five days a week of in-person instruction. This is what the district has been working towards and there seems to be a consensus at all levels of government that opening schools full-time in the fall is a critical priority.”

Danielle Bridges, a pre-school teacher, has a CPS family – a high school sophomore and a 5th grader who has stayed remote throughout the academic year. Looking ahead to the fall, Bridges says she’s comfortable with her son returning to in-person learning because he’s vaccinated. Bridges is worried about her daughter, however, who is too young to get the vaccine shot.

“I foresee that it’s pretty much, I have to send her back or homeschool, and I know that she’s not going to want to homeschool,” she said. “They don’t leave you with many options.”

The state board said it got guidance from IDPH and cites the state should be in Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan by mid-June, which would mean capacity limits for public gatherings would be lifted.

The resolution voted on Wednesday does not include a vaccine mandate, but does strongly encourage those who are eligible to get vaccinated.

Currently, those 12 and older are able to get the Pfizer vaccine.

The state board’s resolution also mentions the rapid testing being done at schools across the state, testing for vaccines for kids younger than 12, as well as the benefits of in-person learning.

The state does carve out some exceptions for in-person learning, which include kids with medical conditions. A board spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune there is also some flexibility to offer remote learning to students on an individual basis.

Billions in federal funding are expected to help school districts across the state prepare to welcome kids back to school.

But Bridges says it’s unclear what that will mean for her family come next school year, saying “I have to sit really hard with it.”

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