As the number of the new coronavirus cases worldwide continues to rise, we are monitoring the impact on Chicago schools and their families and will post updates here.

Have questions or want to tell us about the impact on your family? Email us at chicago.tips@chalkbeat.org.

🔗March 22

🔗Infant case announced in Illinois

Illinois announced 296 additional confirmed cases of coronavirus Sunday afternoon, a 39% daily increase that brings the total cases statewide to 1,049. The new cases include an infant. A week ago, Illinois reported 93 confirmed cases. 

Officials said the infant did not contract coronavirus from the mother, and there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted through breast milk or amniotic fluid. 

Health officials said three more Illinoisans had died because of COVID-19.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new website, Serve.Illinois.gov, intended to help connect volunteers and volunteer organizations with people and places in need. 

The governor also responded to a Sunday morning tweet from President Donald Trump that chastised Pritzker and “a very small group of certain other governors” for criticizing the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Pritzker has criticized the federal government for failing to provide states with tests or emergency response equipment, such as masks. 

Addressing the call-out briefly on Sunday afternoon, Pritzker described himself as “a pretty even-keeled guy” but that he was finding it hard to “contain his anger” regarding Trump’s response to the crisis. “I said the other day that this is a time for serious people, not the carnival barkers in the cheap seats. All I can say is: Get to work or get out of the way.”

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised Pritzker’s leadership in a pointed tweet aimed at the president. She announced that the city will partner with Sittercity, a firm that uses an online platform to connect caregivers with families with children or older adults in need of care. 

Lightfoot said a new website,  sittercity.com/chicagoresponds, will help first responders and health care workers in particular. On Friday, the governor mandated the state’s day care centers to close, though centers may use an emergency licensing process  if they care for children of first responders and want to stay open. 

Officials have also confirmed cases of coronavirus connected to Chicago’s Jones College Prep High School and Loyola University. Chicago Public Schools are closed through April 20.

🔗March 21

Pritzker announces expanded childcare support for emergency workers 

Healthcare employees working during the new coronavirus pandemic will get a boost thanks to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to give grants to child care centers that will care for the children of nurses, doctors, and other emergency personnel.

The governor also issued a “call to action” for retired healthcare workers to return to work.  

More than 150 centers have already applied for the new grant, Pritzker said on Saturday at his daily press briefing. 

“I want to take a moment to thank our childcare workers from the bottom of my heart,” Pritzker said. “We could not keep our essential workers without our childcare workers.” 

Illinois announced 168 new cases on Sunday, bringing the statewide total of confirmed COVID-19 infections to 753. On Friday, Pritzker issued a “shelter in place” order, limiting residents from going out for any but essential services such as groceries or medicine, until April 7.

🔗March 20

🔗Statewide school closures extend to April 8

As the number of nationwide cases topped 16,000, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a “stay-at-home” order Friday and said school closures statewide would be extended to April 8.

The state’s original closure mandate went through March. 30.

On Thursday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot extended Chicago’s public school closure mandate through April 20. 

“I want to be clear. This is not a lockdown. This is not marshal law,” said Lightfoot, who said the city is closing all parks and libraries but that residents may still go to grocery stores, doctors’ offices, and out to exercise. The city will continue to operate essential services, such as public transit and garbage pick-up.

“This is the new normal for now.”

🔗Advanced Placement tests to continue but look different

Students in Advanced Placement classes will be able to take the end-of-course exams, the College Board announced Friday — but the tests will look very different than usual.

There will be no in-person exams. Read more here. 

🔗Testing canceled

Schools will not have to administer federally required tests this year, President Trump and the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday — an unprecedented but unsurprising move in the wake of widespread school closures due to the new coronavirus.

The announcement comes a day after Chicago Public Schools extended closures through April 20 and said it was applying to the state for waivers to suspend its school rating system and spring testing.

🔗March 19

🔗Mayor Lori Lightfoot extends school closures

Chicago schools will stay closed through April 20 in an effort to stem the exponential growth of the new coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a Thursday evening address.

The school district said moments after the mayor’s announcement that it will seek a one-year waiver from the state to suspend school ratings and spring standardized testing. Under the proposal, ratings from the current year would be carried forward. Read more here. 

🔗Virtual school loses bid to stay open

Even as districts around the state rush to figure out distance learning plans for students in the wake of the coronavirus school shutdowns, the state school board voted Wednesday to close Chicago’s only virtual charter school for failure to improve its academics. The vote happened as Illinois is shutting down its charter commission and transferring authority back to the state school board. Read more here.

🔗March 18

🔗‘Very real possibility’ that closures could extend past March 30, state board says

On the day that Illinois’ count of COVID-19 cases jumped 75% to 288 confirmed cases, the Illinois State Board of Education acknowledged that school closures could stretch longer than announced.

“We understand that these are very uncertain times and there is a very real possibility that school closures could extend beyond March 30,” Board Chairman Darren Reisberg said.

However, the board didn’t specify a timeframe, nor the likelihood of an extension. Already one state, Kansas, has closed schools for the rest of the school year, and governors of Colorado and California have suggested their states might do likewise.

Reisberg said that district staff will continue to be paid and that educators are required to provide learning opportunities for students. But students’ work will not be graded because the closure does not count toward instructional days.

Schools also must provide youths up to age 18 with free meals.

The board did not discuss whether it would waive state testing requirements.

🔗Big jump in COVID-19 cases

In his daily briefing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces largest single day jump in COVID-19 cases in the state. Illinois has 288 confirmed cases, up from 160 the day before. Health officials specifically address playdates and discourage families from organizing them (which we blogged about yesterday).

 

🔗Day cares open but struggling

As in several states, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate to close schools did not include freestanding pre-kindergarten and day care centers. At Little Inspirations on the Southeast Side of Chicago, founder and Executive Director Peg Dunne Pavelec has seen a significant drop in attendance. She operates two centers that together can care for over 100 children from 6-week-old infants to 6-year-olds. 

But Tuesday, only 16 of the 85 children enrolled showed up — a 19% attendance rate. She expects to see even fewer tomorrow. 

Parents need to go to work, Pavelec said. She has instructed her teachers to sanitize toys, send children home if they are sick, and wash hands frequently. To limit visitors, she has cancelled tours of their facilities. 

While trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, Pavelec is concerned about what happens next. “It’s hard for center directors to make the right choice about staying open or close; it’s not like the schools where it’s just mandated, but we are an essential service,” she said. She has so many questions. “If we continue through this week, what’s going to happen on the government level? What’s going to happen in terms of the national and community response?” 

Pavelec is concerned about the long-term financial strain of operating with so few students. She doesn’t get reimbursed when families don’t send their children to her.

“Will it make sense for us to stay open? Or will there come a time where we close? I don’t know how to ask for tuition next month if this is still happening,” Pavelec said. 

🔗State board holds first meeting in time of coronavirus 

As the spread of the coronavirus has closed schools across Illinois, the changes wrought by the virus herald a new slate of responsibilities for the state school board, which may soon be called to make decisions about standardized tests, the length of the school year, and more. 

Wednesday is the first Illinois State Board of Education meeting since the spread of COVID-19, and we are monitoring it today. The meeting is audiocast to the public at isbe.net; the board said it would post a video recording at a later date. 

The board is expected to vote on whether to take on oversight of two charter schools the Chicago district is trying to close and approve a request for proposals on e-learning. 

We also expect COVID-19 to be a big part of the discussion. 

While some of the board members met in person in Springfield, a handful of others called in by phone. 

School board president Darren Reisberg opened the meeting by applauding the leadership of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who recently closed all schools in Illinois and promised that districts would not be penalized for swift changes they had to make to schooling. 

“None of us were taught to handle such a wide ranging crisis, but here we are,” Resiberg said. “Thank you for adjusting your routines, priorities and entire lives during this unprecedented worldwide emergency.”

🔗A day without school

One Indiana teacher has video-chatted with her blind students, who are trying to learn fractions at home. A Chicago teacher is trying to teach “Romeo and Juliet” through online hours. Here’s what a day without school looked like for teachers, parents, and students across the country.

🔗March 17

🔗A strange new reality sets in

“Home school” is the new reality for Illinois families. Teachers: Help make it better. We’ve put up a brief survey and we plan to share the answers with parents.

🔗One death due to COVID-19; statewide meal delivery for children

Illinois on Tuesday confirmed 160 cases of coronavirus in 15 counties in Illinois with cases ranging from 9 to 91. That’s an increase from 105 the day before. 

In his daily press conference, Gov. J.B. Pritzker reported the state’s first death due to COVID-19: a Chicago woman in her 60s with an underlying medical condition who tested positive earlier this month after interacting with a known case. He said 22 new cases have been reported at DuPage County nursing home, with 18 residents infected and four staff. 

The governor restated that all K-12 schools around the state will continue to distribute meals to children who are eligible for free and reduced lunch through delivery and parent-pickup. The governor asked that schools expand their programs to include all school children and any children enrolled in an Illinois school regardless of age. 

🔗State school board issues clears up pay question

During the two-week closure mandated by the governor, educators across the state will receive their normal pay which includes salary, hourly and stipend pay, and benefits. Educators and school leaders are required to continue education of students, ensure meals, and other support for students. 

This announcement was made on Tuesday in a joint statement between the governor’s office and the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Principals Association and the Illinois State Board of Education.

“These are unprecedented times, but we are all together with the goal of caring for students. Our organizations are truly inspired by the phenomenal cooperation shown across the state and encourage all of our members to be reasonable, creative, and generous while determining what’s best for our students in Illinois,” read the statement.

🔗Union calls on state to suspend spring testing

There’s a call today from the Chicago Teachers Union for the state school board to suspend standardized testing. The union is also calling on Illinois to adjust grad requirements “so no student is held back a grade level or prevented from graduating because of the disruption to the academic year.”

A spokeswoman from the state school board said the U.S. Department of Education has indicated that it will make waivers available that could give states flexibility to not offer tests this year. But, she said, the board of education “will not know and be able to determine exactly what waivers it is going to be able to pursue until we understand the full scope of the closure.”

🔗Avoiding playdates

As families grapple with the reality of being homebound, the question of playdates has come up frequently in neighborhood social media groups. What’s the guidance on that?

A spokesperson from the state department of public health told Chalkbeat that new guidance is forthcoming, but that group playdates should be avoided.

“Residents should continue to practice social distancing measures, such as working from home when possible, limiting the amount of time spent in the community.  These measures will help reduce the number of people who become sick at any given time and the possibility of exhausting our health care resources.”

🔗Clarity about grading policies in Chicago

Are schools going to grade the take home “enrichment packets” that schools sent home with Chicago students? (See our 7 questions from parents, asked and answered. This is one of them.)

The answer is no, and that’s in line with guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education, which has also recommended that districts not grade during closure periods. 

Chicago Public Schools reiterated this today on social media. 

🔗March 16

🔗Seven questions asked and answered

Here are answers to seven of Chicago parents’ most pressing questions, from whether school will really be back in session on Mar. 31 to whether “enrichment packets” will be graded.

🔗In union town hall ahead of school closures, teachers question e-learning, salaries

In a tele-town hall on Sunday night, attended by 4,000 people via the internet, educators peppered the Chicago Teachers Union with questions about e-learning, pay schedules, and plans were for students needing special learning accommodations. 

The barrage of questions represent the uncertainty and confusion students and teachers feel about Chicago’s unprecedented school closures, set to begin Tuesday and extend through until March 30. 

Schools were in session today on Monday, March 16. Pritzker announced the school closures Friday evening, giving teachers little time to prepare enrichment activities and contact plans for students. 

‘We have one copy machine at my school, and I am worried that it is going to break down,’ said Shayna, one of the teachers on the call, who did not say her full name or at which school she teaches. 

Union leaders on the call stressed the unusual circumstances, and demanded accommodations and supports for educators. 

“Teachers are going to do what they can — it’s enrichment during a school shut down and international pandemic,” union President Jesse Sharkey said. 

Educators also asked about paychecks and health insurance — both expected to be interrupted — and whether they would be taking attendance during virtual learning. Union leaders encouraged staff to submit receipts for cleaning supplies they purchased in the initial rush to keep schools clean as news of the pandemic spread, and to check amended guidance on how to handle any requests for leave. 

Some teachers were concerned about being exposed to the virus when they went to school on Monday. Sharkey suggested they exercise judgment about their own health, and consider using a sick day, stressing that “the overriding concern is your health.” 

Stacey Davis Gates, vice president of the union, acknowledged that the weeks of social distancing, and time away from students, would be difficult. The union was working with the district to organize well-being checks on particularly vulnerable students. 

The union was also planning to start a blog for members to “experience this together.”

🔗State weighs in on a critical question for child care centers: Funding during the crisis

Illinois is out with more information for day cares and preschools. We wrote Sunday about how those who run preschools and child care centers are in a tough spot. Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday ordered K-12 schools to close but left out day cares to provide for children of first responders, hospital workers, and other emergency personnel. Read that story here. 

The state said Monday it won’t force freestanding child care centers and day cares to close. But it will extend funding and relax strict requirements that dock funding when attendance drops. About 150 child care center owners over the weekend signed a letter to the governor asking for more funding flexibility and for assistance with emergency funding for hourly workers if they did need to close. 

Monday the state said that programs funded through the Illinois State Board of Education, federal Head Start programs, and the city of Chicago will not lose government funding because of the coronavirus crisis. The directive said that centers that do close must pay workers — many centers accept a mix of public funding and private tuition and the directive did not spell out how centers will make up for lost tuition.

For programs funded by any or all of these funding streams, programs are expected to continue to pay all staff per their regular work schedule during any closures due to the public health emergency,” the notice reads.

Congress is considering a federal package that would help small businesses meet payroll; that would include day cares, the notice reads.

🔗Preparing, or not, for e-learning as schools close

We heard from teachers over the weekend who were hustling to put together learning packets and assemble online passwords for students who have access to Internet. We want to hear from educators: What are you planning for your students during the closures? Tell us at chicago.tips@chalkbeat.org

🔗March 15

🔗Another case surfaces connected to Chicago Public Schools

In an email sent out to parents and staff Sunday night, Chicago Public Schools confirmed that someone at Sheridan Math and Science Academy in Bridgeport tested positive and the school would be closed Monday. The district referred only to a “member” of the academy and did not specify if the person was a teacher, other staffer, or student there. Read more here. 

This is the third known case connected to a Chicago public school. Earlier today, administrators at the Noble Network announced a case connected to a Mansueto High School staffer. A week ago, a special education aide at Vaughn Occupational High School was the first case connected to a Chicago school.

Chicago schools will close Tuesday as part of a statewide K-12 school shutdown ordered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

🔗Noble Network closes schools after staff member tests positive for novel coronavirus

The Noble charter network, which educates over 12,000 children in Chicago, will close Monday after a staff member tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The network did not release information about the Mansueto school staffer nor when the test was result was released. Schools will be closed for everything except for food services at some campuses.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered all K-12 schools to close from Tuesday, as a means to help control the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. Noble will close one day early.

Citing logistical challenges, the network will provide food service at only seven of its campuses on Tuesday: Pritzker, Noble Street, Hansberry, DRW, Comer Middle, Baker, and Butler for children at all 18 of its schools.

Noble operates independently of Chicago Public Schools.

🔗
🔗Pritzker orders restaurants and bars closed statewide, promises students access to school meals

Children in Illinois will continue to have access to school breakfast and lunch even amid the statewide school closure, Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed Sunday. He also announced he is ordering all bars and restaurants statewide to close from Monday evening as part of Illinois’ coronavirus response, though deliveries, drive-throughs and curbside pickups will be allowed.

Pritzker said the state Board of Education has obtained a federal waiver to continue providing meals during the closures. In Chicago, he said, schoolchildren can pick up free breakfast and lunch at any school — even if that’s not the school they attend and regardless of whether they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Illinois now has 93 confirmed coronavirus cases, health officials said.

The governor also said he approached numerous food manufacturers to donate meals to food banks to provide free dinner to schoolchildren as well. Pritzker said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Separately, Pritzker said he had extracted a commitment from Vice President Mike Pence to double the number of screeners at O’Hare International Airport, where heightened screening of travelers from Europe led to long waits Saturday. Pritzker called the backlogs an “unacceptable and frankly dangerous situation,” pinning responsibility on the federal government.

About his decision to shutter restaurants and bars through March 30, he said it was a tough but prudent step. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned businesses that the city will strictly enforce the governor’s directive.

Pritzker said he has been heartened by the state’s response to the outbreak so far, from both officials and the public.

“I believe in you,” he said. “I am going to fight like hell in the weeks ahead.”

🔗March 14

🔗First cases of COVID-19 in Central and Southern Illinois

During a press conference with Illinois public health officials Saturday afternoon, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced 18 additional cases of novel coronavirus in Central and Southern Illinois. 

The total number of cases throughout the state is now 64. 

While most have been concentrated in Cook County, current cases have been found in Cumberland, DuPage, St. Clair and Woodford. There are seven new cases in Chicago, four in suburban Cook, one in Kane, and one in Lake. 

The recent case in DuPage is a woman in her 60s residing in a long-term care facility, and the Illinois Department of Health is currently working on the ground to identify her current contacts. 

Pritzker repeated the need for social distancing, “If you’re young and healthy, we need you to follow social distancing guidelines too. You may only have mild symptoms for a few days and think that you’re just fine but you can have the unintended, tragic effect of spreading COVID-19 to others who may be more vulnerable.” 

While K-12 schools are closed and, along with them, pre-K classrooms connected to those campuses, independent pre-k and daycare facilities do not fall under the closed schools mandate, the governor said, since most of those are smaller.

🔗March 13

🔗Chicago makes plans for families

While its schools will be suddenly closed for two weeks to guard against the coronavirus, Chicago will coordinate food distribution centers, run drop-off child care programs at 18 parks, and on Monday send home packets of schoolwork with students.

But Chicago Public Schools won’t be rolling out a robust remote-learning plan, and whether it will reschedule spring break is still up in air. Read more here.

🔗Governor announces statewide closure

Illinois will become the eighth state to close schools due to the coronavirus outbreak. The closures go into effect Tuesday to give teachers time to prepare.

“I understand what this means for the families and caretakers of the 2 million students,” Pritzker said, “and none of the choices we have had to make over the last week have been easy or simple. All these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations.” This is a developing story. 

🔗Here’s a running list of Illinois district closures

The number of Illinois districts announcing school closures now tops 60, affecting nearly 300,0000 students. Here’s the running list.

🔗Chicago’s rationale so far for not closing schools

The mayor says she’s assessing and reassessing the situation multiple times a day. Read what she told reporters this morning here.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth largest school district, announced it was closing schools.

🔗New guidance from the CDC on closures

In revised guidance issued Friday, the CDC suggested that early, short- to medium- term closures don’t slow the progression of COVID-19 in a community. Longer closures — eight to 20 weeks — might retard the virus’ community spread, it said. But modeling shows that other recommended measures like handwashing and isolating patients at home could have a greater effect, the federal agency advised.

Places like Hong Kong that closed schools haven’t had more success in reducing the novel coronavirus spread than have areas like Singapore that kept campuses open, the CDC observed.

On the other hand, observers of the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy have emphatically advised early social isolation, including closing schools, to slow down the virus’s progress through communities.

🔗Chicago Teachers Union takes a stronger stance

The Chicago Teachers Union is calling for the immediate closure of all schools in the district, the country’s third largest. The union said the step is necessary to hamper the spread of coronavirus.

It’s a pivot for a union that, on Thursday, had called on Chicago to proactively close schools for a single day — Election Day — since hundreds double as polling places and many community members would be in and out to vote, potentially putting children at risk.

Jennifer Johnson, the union’s chief of staff, pointed to the announcement this morning that schools in Los Angeles, the second largest district in the nation, are slated to close.

“This is the time to be proactive and cautious,” she said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “CPS, too, needs to get ahead of this.”

District and city officials have said the current risk the virus outbreak poses does not justify the disruption that a mass district closure would cause — though they stress they continue to evaluate the situation as it unfolds. They have noted that children appear to be at a lower risk for contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill, and they said closing all schools will mean significant hardship for many students and families.

CTU noted in a Friday statement that most district schools meet the criteria Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker outlined Thursday about community gatherings: discouraging events of 250 people or more and banning those that bring together more than 1,000 residents.

Union officials also want the city and district to work together on a remote learning strategy and a meal delivery plan to ensure students who rely on school meals still have access to them. The union once again called for the suspension of the district’s school ratings policy, which factors in school attendance. The union is also demanding that the city of Chicago declare a state of emergency and place a moratorium on evictions and utility bills.

🔗Closures so far in Illinois

The Illinois State Board of Education has started tracking school- and district-wide closures across the state. So far here’s what we know as of Friday morning: As of now, there have been more than 30 districts closed and over 100,000 students out of class. That’s about 5% of students statewide. In all, there are 3,872 schools, 852 districts and 2 million students across the state.

🔗Archdiocese closing schools

The Archdiocese of Chicago tells parents it will close schools beginning Monday in Cook and Lake counties.

In a press conference Friday morning at City Hall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot tells reporters that she spoke with Cardinal Blase Cupich about the Archdiocese decision. But closing public schools in Chicago has cascading consequences. She said she’s constantly assessing the situation.

Factoring into the decision to keep schools open, said Lightfoot, is the case of the special education teacher’s aide at Vaughn Occupational High School. As far as officials know to this point, no one else at the school has tested positive for coronavirus (two relatives of the woman who had no contact with the school have confirmed cases), the mayor said.

She said she’s frequently in contact with the governor’s office throughout the day on the issue of school openings and closings. “The governor has concerns about schools across state. We’re having multiple conversations every single day about what we’re doing, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and using data to drive the decision. In the event we need to take action, we will do that in partnership with the state.”

🔗Flexibility on food delivery weighs on states

Children living in poverty in the United States rely on school for meals, and that reality has factored prominently into some districts’ decisions to keep schools open.

Illinois officials confirmed Thursday that they have applied for a waiver for a federally funded school lunch/meal program that requires students to eat in a group setting — getting the waiver would give districts flexibility in how to design meal delivery programs should the need arise.

Politico has reported that the USDA said that it will waive the requirement on a state-by-state basis, but the waiver only covers districts where more than 50% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. (In Illinois, 48.8% of students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches, but many districts, including Chicago, have numbers that are considerably higher.) The USDA has done this in the past with school districts during natural disasters but the coronavirus will present new issues.


🔗March 12

🔗Evanston Skokie District 65 to close schools starting Monday

Officials say that the district will implement an e-learning plan. Other suburban districts on Chicago’s North Shore also announced closures, including New Trier and several of its elementary school feeder districts and all Northfield Township districts.

In Oak Park, in the city’s western suburbs, officials at the elementary district and high school initiated an e-learning week, starting Friday and running through next week, with Spring Break to follow. “Students will not physically come to school, but these will be attendance days where they will have coursework and assignments,” the high school said.

🔗No statewide school closure in Illinois
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker talks Thursday about measures to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus. He is flanked on the left by an interpreter and on the right by Illinois public health Director Ngozi Ezike and Chicago public health Commissioner Allison Arwady.
PHOTO CREDIT: Heather Cherone/The Daily Line Chicago

As the number of confirmed Illinois cases of coronavirus rises to 32, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stark message to state residents Thursday evening about shutting down sporting events and large gatherings, but he stopped short of an edict for school closure.

School closures will still be community decisions, he said at a Thursday evening press conference, stressing that many children in the state “receive essential services from the schools they attend.”

“We are not closing our schools, but we are monitoring the situation on a day to day basis.”

He advised schools to cancel assemblies.

On Thursday, governors of Ohio and Maryland both issued statewide edicts to close schools.

Chicago schools will remain open at this time, said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “We are a city that is well prepared to address this crisis.”

Of the state’s seven new cases, one is a Chicago child who is at home in good condition, health officials said.

Read the latest here.

🔗Complaints resurface about dirty schools. Surface wipes are on back order.

As the coronavirus has spread, so have concerns about cleanliness in schools. Some districts in communities where cases have been confirmed, including Lombard in the western suburbs and in Washington and Virginia, have planned closures for a single, deep cleaning day out of concern.

Chicago so far has promised daily disinfections of “high-touch” areas such as doorknobs and handrails. The district said last week it was delivering more cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to schools and asking janitorial staff to check bathrooms daily for soap. Over the weekend, it said supplies were on “pre-order,” but did not clarify when they might arrive.

Apparently, some schools are still waiting, and teachers have started complaining on social media and in private messages to Chalkbeat that efforts to deep clean are falling short. Sanitation concerns are a familiar issue in Chicago, stemming from the district’s decision, during a budget crunch in 2014, to privatize janitorial services to two contract companies, Aramark and Sodexo, and failures of some schools to subsequently pass inspections.

One teacher, at James Hedges Fine and Performing Arts School, told Chalkbeat on Wednesday the janitor had been out for a week. Another said her school custodian had only been approved to work an extra hour.

Another teacher said he was making his own hand sanitizer from rubbing alcohol and aloe vera.

The district said Thursday that operations managers are visiting schools daily to check on custodial staff and that it was implementing additional cleanliness audits in wake of coronavirus concerns. It also said it had authorized additional custodial overtime during evening and weekend hours.

As for supplies, some, like surface wipes, are caught on back order, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman wrote in an email. “Wipes are among the most in-demand items in the country and we are scheduled to receive a shipment soon and will distribute as soon as possible.”

But she said there is no shortage of cleaning supplies. “Every school has a minimum of two cases of soap supplies and up to 60 additional cases of hand soap supplies (depending on the size of the school and student body/utilization) readily available,” she said. Warehouses also had ample supplies, she wrote, adding that custodians are supposed to more frequently restock schools as campus supplies dwindle.

Coronavirus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another. It also can spread by people touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouth or nose.

🔗Conversations in the classroom

Students have questions. Many questions.

How are educators handling them and is there an approach that seems particularly effective? We want to hear from you.

🔗‘It’s time to talk about bias and bullying.’

Angie Hong, a parent, writes: “As news of the new coronavirus made its way around the world, I asked my nine-year-old, American-born, Korean son if anyone at school was making comments to him about the coronavirus.

“Yeah,” he said. “They yelled across the room, ‘You’re Chinese, you have coronavirus!’”

Hong lives in North Carolina, but her first-person account of how she addressed bias and bullying with her child — and took the matter to administrators at her son’s school — may prove a helpful read for any parent or educator faced with similar conversations.

🔗More closures nationally
Treadwell Elementary off of Given Avenue in Memphis.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Cancellations keep rolling in nationally. In New York, two South Bronx schools closed after a student tested positive for coronavirus, and in Memphis, schools will be closed from Friday until March 30, the district said Thursday morning. Earlier this week, delayed communication to Spanish-speaking parents about a school staffer’s quarantine had educators in that city concerned.

Hinsdale High School 86 has cancelled classes after a student at Hinsdale South was exposed to COVID-19. According to the school’s statement, they would have instituted an remote learning day but decided to use an emergency day since they received late notice. If school should remain closed longer, the district will use remote learning.

Chicago Public Schools said earlier in the week that it did not plan to close additional schools. One of Chicago’s most high-profile private schools, Chicago Lab, announced Thursday that it would start remote learning on March 30. “The Director of the Laboratory Schools will be in contact soon with more information, including about the duration of the remote learning period,” a release said. Organizers also have canceled a large suburban college information fair in Rosemont planned for the weekend.


🔗March 11

🔗Chicago teachers take aim at spring break travel company

Chicago educators took to social media Wednesday to lash out at a student tour operator for not refunding a Simeon High School spring break trip to Greece. The school district suspended the trip because of coronavirus concerns, and the tour company, EF Educational Tours, offered to postpone the trip but not repay fees for the 13 students, according to the Chicago Teachers Union.

On Twitter, the union called the stance an example of “callousness.” An overwhelming majority of students at Simeon High are low-income, and one teacher tweeted they worked hard to fundraise for the trip.

A spokeswoman for EF Educational Tours said it cannot comment about specific tours and groups. But she noted EF Tours decided to extend its Peace of Mind program, usually reserved for cancellations 45 days in advance, to all tour groups in light of the outbreak. That would allow them to postpone their trips or join other trips scheduled for later in the year. The company’s web site says it doesn’t refund cancelled trips because it books airfare and hotels months, sometimes even years, in advance to offer students lower prices.

“We’re working on a solution with vendors,” a tweet from the official Chicago Public Schools account said. “No matter what, we’re going to make these students whole.”

As for field trips, the district told parents on Facebook that it would provide updates soon.

By Mila Koumpilova

🔗Seattle closes schools as Washington cases top 300

March 11: Number of Illinois cases rises again

State leaders said Wednesday that six additional coronavirus cases were diagnosed in Illinois in the past 24 hours, bringing the statewide total to 25.

All but one of the new cases are in Cook County. Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the start of the state legislative session will be postponed until March 24; he also encouraged state residents to request vote-by-mail ballots for the March 17 Illinois primary by the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline.

“It’s on all of us to minimize the spread and keep Illinoisans healthy,” said Pritzker, who again voiced frustration with the limited number of tests provided by the federal government.

Alicia Tate-Nadeau, who leads the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said schools and campuses across the state should be working on their plans for remote learning and canceling or postponing study abroad and other overseas travel.

Some Chicago parents are taking to Twitter to ask state elections officials to reconsider using schools as polling places for next week’s primary.

by Mila Koumpilova

🔗Teachers union calls for remote learning plans, cleaning supplies
Jennifer Johnson, the Chicago Teachers Union’s chief of staff, spoke at a press event Mar. 11 with other labor leaders calling for a “common good platform” in responding to coronavirus.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mila Koumpilova

Chicago Teachers Union leaders joined other labor groups at Chicago City Hall Wednesday morning to rally around what they dubbed “a common good platform” to protect workers and families during a coronavirus outbreak. Labor leaders called for the passage of statewide paid sick leave legislation.

The union called on Chicago Public Schools to suspend a school ratings policy that factors in student attendance, which leaders said discourages schools from sending sick students home promptly. The union also urged the district and others to advocate for state legislation on remote learning, one that would ensure student access to the internet and devices.

“In-person school is always best, but we have to have a backup plan to ensure students don’t fall behind,” said CTU Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson.

Johnson and others also urged the district to step up efforts to ensure schools have adequate cleaning supplies. She said the coronavirus outbreak validates the union’s push to assign a nurse to every school, a staffing concession the group won in the last round of contract negotiations. And she reiterated demands to improve school cleanliness..

But Johnson also suggested this moment offers an opportunity for renewed collaboration with the district on a coronavirus response.

The union is canceling its upcoming delegate training “out of an abundance of caution,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Lalasz, a registered nurse with the National Nurses United union, criticized the decision to call for self-quarantine only for students and employees of Vaughn Occupational School, where a classroom aide was diagnosed with the new coronavirus last week. She said the district, which heeded guidance from city health officials, should have asked siblings and parents to stay home as well.

“The entire family needs to be isolated to protect the community,” she said.

City health officials have said they believe the case at Vaughn is an “isolated incident” and that they are testing any students and staff with symptoms of illness.

Still, Lalasz acknowledged self-quarantine would have imposed hardship on some Vaughn families: “Without support, we can’t reasonably expect them to isolate themselves.”

By Mila Koumpilova

🔗Illinois needs more tests

Concerned about the coronavirus spread in Illinois, where confirmed cases numbered 19 as of midday Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in a joint appearance with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, announced that major St. Patrick’s Day parades for the weekend will be canceled.

Pritzker called on federal health officials to speed up their response.

“We need the federal government to rise to this occasion. As long as we are seeing an increase in cases and not enough tests, I will be, personally, on the phone with senior federal officials at the White House and elsewhere in the executive branch to continue to demand that we see a matching increase in tests,” he said.

Officials said they are paying close attention to veteran and senior living homes.

Meanwhile, a handful of other public school closures were announced. In DuPage County, Lombard School District 44 cancelled classes on Wednesday after a visitor to a volleyball game at Glenn Westlake Middle School on March 4 tested positive for COVID-19. The district said it will use an emergency day to clean and disinfect eight schools.

By Samantha Smylie

🔗Why planning for e-learning may be problematic in some districts

The conversation starts heating up about remote learning plans. By the start of this week, with case numbers climbing and a handful of school closing, the state school board prods districts to develop an e-learning plan “in preparation for the possibility of a school closure.”

And while some Illinois districts already have a head start because of cold weather closures, most are unprepared. Read more here.


🔗March 10

🔗What we know so far
  • Chicago has closed one school after a teacher’s aide there tested positive. More here.
  • Closing a school is a complex decision. Read more here about the impact on families at Vaughn Occupational.
  • Still, research shows school closures can slow the spread of illness. Read our research roundup here.
  • Coronavirus conversations are happening in the classroom. Here, one Indiana teacher explains how she’s addressing student fears.
  • School cleanliness is in the spotlight. Read here about how Chicago plans to deliver more cleaning supplies.
  • Parents have questions about who is susceptible. Here are 6 common questions and answers about Chicago’s response.
  • Federal officials have suggested districts should plan for remote learning. Here Chalkbeat explains why that’s a remote possibility for many urban districts.
  • There’s a renewed spotlight nationally on the role of school nurses. Read more here.
  • Other cities are grappling with tough questions, too, about when to close schools. Read the latest from our New York bureau here.

https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/03/17/home-school-is-the-new-reality-for-illinois-families-teachers-help-make-it-better/A new reality sets in.