Students and teachers will not be returning to their classrooms until at least fall. On Friday afternoon, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that he is ordering that all schools in Illinois remain closed for the remainder of this academic year.
Pritzker said he made his decision after consulting with public health experts. He said that allowing school kids to resume their normal routines would risk further transmission of the coronavirus, putting more lives in danger.
“The science says that students can’t go back to their normal routine,” Pritzker said.
The decision to keep schools closed for the rest of the year hits high school seniors perhaps the hardest.
“Fourth quarter is the most fun and the one everyone looks forward to,” said Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Lidia Bielobradek in a text message. “We had prom, senior prank, senior picnic, senior ditch day and so many other things we had planned, and now we really can’t do any of it. I think we are all upset with this news. The little bit of hope we all had about going back to school for even a day is now lost.”
While not unexpected, the decision hit RBHS Principal Hector Freytas hard.
“I’m devastated for seniors, for all the students,” Freytas said. “We’re not going to be able to come back to our building to reconnect physically.”
But local school administrators were not surprised by Pritzker’s decision.
“This is anticipated,” said Martha Ryan-Toye, the superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96. “We were assuming that this message would be coming from the governor. We were just wondering when.”
Still school officials are saddened that students won’t be returning to their schools this year.
“We’re greatly disappointed that our students won’t be able to be back together in large group settings this school year, but we understand the need for it,” Ryan-Toye said.
Whether to and how to have eighth-grade and high school graduations is now an issue that school administrators must decide.
Freytas said no decision has been made about RBHS’ graduation, which is scheduled for May 22.
“That’s kind of still open ended,” Freytas said. “As of right now graduation is still scheduled for May 22, but in a day or two it could change. At the next board meeting it could change. I’m kind of just waiting, but if we can’t get together May 22 physically maybe we do virtual graduation or we do a car drive-by graduation. Somehow, we do something safe, whatever is safe.”
RBHS District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said the school administration would be working on a plan and a formal announcement of what that will be next week.
“Our priority will be to provide a proper send-off to the class of 2020,” Skinkis said in an email. “The sacrifices these seniors have made during the final quarter of their senior year are unparalleled, and we will do our best to provide them the recognition they deserve.”
No official decisions have been made yet at Lyons Township High School about its graduation ceremony, which is scheduled for May 31 or about the school’s prom, which is scheduled for May 28 at Navy Pier.
“We’ve not made any final decisions on that,” said Jennifer Bialobok, the community relations coordinator for Lyons Township High School. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to do that.”
Ryan-Toye said that District 96 will likely hold some kind of special, but virtual, event for eighth-graders.
Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said that while no decision had been made, there is a chance that there will not be a graduation ceremony for eighth-graders at S.E. Gross Middle School.
“I think we have to take a realistic look that some things are just not going to be available to kids, and it’s incredibly unfortunate,” Kuzniewski said.
Remote learning in all schools will continue through the scheduled end of the school year.
LTHS is making some changes to its remote learning procedures. Classes that had met in odd-numbered periods will now have remote learning on Mondays and Wednesdays, while classes that had met in even-numbered periods will have remote learning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students will have Fridays off.