Schools are shut down across Illinois, and no one really knows when they will open again.
All schools in Illinois were ordered closed by Governor J.B. Pritzker in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but most area school districts had already decided to close before the governor’s order. Area school districts tentatively plan for students to return in early April.
But with the Center for Disease Control now recommending that there be no public gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, that early April return date is in doubt.
Brookfield-La Grange Park Elementary School District 95, Riverside Elementary District 96, Komarek School District 94 and LaGrange-Brookfield School District 102 are all due to return to school on April 7.
While schools are closed area districts are implementing eLearning or at home learning. That could continue into April and beyond if schools cannot reopen as planned.
“I’m certainly telling teachers to think about options that go beyond April 7,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye.
Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township high schools are also closed until at least April 7. Students at RBHS received word of the closure near the end of the school day on Friday.
“I think it is our best interest as a community to limit social interactions, but I’m still pretty shocked by how suddenly this all happened,” said RBHS senior Kenna Howorth. “School is one of my favorite places, and I love my teachers and classes, so this is pretty surreal and sad for me that a large majority of my last semester in high school is going to be spent behind a computer screen.”
Howorth said many students were particularly pained because RBHS, like LTHS, has also canceled all after-school activities until April 7, leaving spring sports seasons in doubt.
“Girls were crying. It was really a sad scene,” Howorth said. “Everyone was devastated about spring athletics being canceled.”
Some students, especially younger ones, didn’t understand why school was being canceled, because they didn’t know anyone who was sick. No students or staff in area schools have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness that can result from exposure to the fast spreading Coronavirus.
“They’ve been asking for sleepovers. They think it’s a snow day,” said Riverside resident Jennifer Fournier of her 8-year-old twins. “We’ve been trying to keep them on lockdown, trying to keep them away from watching too much TV.”
Bennet Janunas, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at L.J. Hauser Junior High School, was upset because he was due to perform in “The Music Man,” Hauser’s spring musical, which had been scheduled to be performed on March 16 and 17.
“He was very upset at first and he didn’t understand why everyone was so scared,” Lisa Janunas, Bennet’s mother.
It is not certain whether “The Music Man” will be performed this year or not.
“It might depend on when we come back, but we’re leaving the sets up and everything with the idea being that this is a postponement, not a cancelation,” Ryan-Toye said.
Students in Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 are not scheduled to return to class until April 13. School was open on Monday so that teachers could prepare home-learning packets to give their students, District 103 Superintendent Kristofer Rivera said.
“We do not have an eLearning system, because we don’t have enough devices,” Rivera said. “We’re about 450 to 500 devices short.”
Attendance Monday in District 103 was much lower than normal, although about 80 percent of George Washington Middle School students showed up for school.
Area schools will provide packed cold lunches to students receiving free or reduced-price lunches at school during the time that schools are closed.
Parents will have to come to schools to pick up their lunches. RBHS and District 95 will have lunches available twice a week with two meals being picked up on Monday and three on Wednesday.
In LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 Brookfield families that qualify for free and reduced lunch can pick up breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. daily at Congress Park School and Park Junior High.
District 96 and District 103 will provide bagged lunches every day. Parents in District 95 can pick up the lunches at S.E. Gross Middle School from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and parents in District 96 can pick up lunches daily, at the door facing the Hauser parking lot, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Even District 96 families not eligible for free and reduced lunch can pick up free lunches at Hauser. Lunches will not be provided during spring break, which is next week for most area schools.
“We want to keep students safe; we want to keep students fed,” Ryan-Toye said.
eLearning began on March 17 for RBHS students and March 18 for District 96 students. Third and fourth graders in District 96 will be given Chromebooks on March 18, so all District 96 students in third through eighth grades will have Chromebooks to access eLearning assignments.
Area teachers have worked frantically in the last few days to develop assignments and activities that can be done at home. Some will not require access to the Internet. Teachers at RBHS and District 96 were at work on Monday developing extended assignments.
“I met with every grade level group today,” Ryan-Toye said. “We had them working in socially separated small groups. We didn’t want our whole staff convened in one spot.”
The at-home learning will not necessarily approximate a regular school day, but students will have daily assignments for each of their subjects.
“Our goal is to support the continuity of learning for all children as much as possible,” Ryan-Toye said.
Many at-home assignments will not be counted toward a student’s grade.
“It is not required to participate in, and this is per ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education], it is not graded, nor does it count toward their grade,” Kuzniewski said.
Administrators will continue to work this week and after spring break. Since employees will be paid whether or not they show up for work, it is not certain how many custodians or lunch aides will show up for work.
“I may be pushing a mop or disinfecting or handing out lunches,” Rivera said. “It all depends, because it’s just one of those times where all hands are on deck.”