It is week two of Illinois school closures, and it’s starting to sink in: Children are going to be out of school for several weeks due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. 

How will that impact learning? 

We’ll be updating this blog regularly with news, insights, and information. Have tips or questions or suggestions of what we should cover? Email us at chicago.tips@chalkbeat.org

For our previous blog chronicling the first 12 days of the crisis, click here. 

Need help with homeschooling? We’re holding a virtual event with five Illinois educators on April 2. Learn more here. 

🔗March 27

🔗More than 600 providers apply for emergency child care licenses statewide

More than 600 Illinois child care providers have applied for licenses to help care for children of first responders and health care professionals on the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday. 

Pritzker said that child care providers may apply for a one time grant starting Monday to help address any additional costs. Licensed homes may receive $750, centers with one or two classrooms may receive $2,000 and centers with three or more classrooms may receive $3,000. 

Illinois earlier this week ordered child care centers for children under 5 to close, but allowed them to apply for an emergency license to stay open. The state has said that centers that close will not lose their public funding to care for low-income children. However, many centers also accept some private tuition, and owners have said they hope to benefit later from government aid for small businesses. 

State public health officials on Friday announced 488 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths. That brings Illinois’ total count to 3,026 cases and 34 deaths as of Friday afternoon. 

🔗How long could closures last in Illinois?

By the end of this week, four states had said they planned to extend school closures through the end of the school year.

Illinois isn’t there yet. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office said Friday that he will “continue monitoring the data that evolves daily and base his decisions off the science and recommendations from experts.”

In a call with reporters Friday afternoon, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her team, including schools chief Janice Jackson and CPS leaders, were looking to the state for guidance and also consulting with leaders of other large districts.

Chicago Public Schools has said its campuses are closed at least through April 20, while a statewide school closure mandate extends through April 8.

Lightfoot said she is concerned about Chicago’s limitations when it comes to e-learning. 

It’s no secret we have a one-room schoolhouse when it comes to access to broadband, digital equipment that would help facilitate e-learning,” she said. “That’s something I’m very focused on and in active conversations with CPS about. It’s a challenge for us, but it’s a challenge I’m determined I’m going to meet. We owe it to our kids. We just do.”

Earlier in the week, the city’s school board granted district leaders the authority to spend $75 million on coronavirus response, including technology. The district said a remote learning plan was coming this week, and it was also weighing how it could purchase devices and distribute them in a way that would prioritize highest-need households first. But it did not offer specific plans. (More here on that.)

The mayor also said Friday that Chicago Public Schools had so far served more than 2 million meals.

But the demand isn’t equal across all school sites, and whether the school district could consolidate distribution sites is “actively under discussion,” Lightfoot said in response to a question from Chalkbeat. 

Coronavirus cases among frontline school workers have impacted food distribution in other American cities. 

“There are a number of different variables that we are looking at to make sure we are focusing our resources at areas of the city where we need it most,” the mayor said. “My hat is off to folks at CPS and to the frontline workers who’ve been doing a tremendous job to make sure their students and families are fed.”

🔗House passes federal stimulus bill that includes money for schools

The bill, which the Senate passed Thursday, includes $13.5 billion for schools for remote learning technology, costs associated with sanitizing school buildings, and paying for summer learning programs, among other coronavirus-related expenditures. Now it goes to President Donald Trump. Read more here.

🔗March 26

🔗Questions about emergency child care weigh on Chicago

One recurring question facing Chicago, and every other city in the country, is what to do about child care for health care workers, first responders, and other essential employees. 

Chicago kept day cares and child care centers open longer than schools, but it ultimately shut them. The state has started issuing emergency licenses for some centers to keep operating and care for small groups of children. The state did not have an immediate answer to how many operators have applied for those licenses.

Chicago is offering free in-home child care through Sittercity. Some centers are also staying open through the emergency license program, but the city did not have a readily available number, either. 

Responding to a public letter from the city’s teachers union that said the city was considering reopening schools near hospitals to care for children, Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged that such a plan was under consideration. In response to union concerns about the safety of teachers who might be put at risk by working, the mayor emphasized that staff would be “volunteer.”

In response to questions from Chalkbeat later Thursday, the mayor’s office said that the plan to open emergency child care centers in schools is one of several contingency plans on the table. 

“The mayor’s office is developing multiple contingency plans for providing emergency child care to health care and other essential workers in the event that such care is needed to ensure that our critical systems can continue to operate. The proposal in question is not being implemented at this time.” 

“As announced on Monday, first responders are encouraged to take advantage of the city’s partnership with Sittercity, which has created a mechanism by which in-home care can be provided.”

🔗“Something miraculous has happened in Washington.”

Speaking Thursday about the bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass a federal bill that would provide relief for coronavirus, Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said Thursday that “something miraculous had happened in Washington.”

“We’ve done something on a timely basis,” he quipped.

Durbin spoke as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily press briefing on coronavirus and its impact. As of midday Thursday, Illinois has reported 2,538 cases and 26 deaths. 

The stimulus bill, which must now go to the House, includes significant sums for schools. The biggest chunk: $13.5 billion to be distributed among states, which would have to pass most of that on to school districts and charter schools for buying technology for remote learning, sanitizing school buildings, and paying for summer learning programs. (Click here to read Chalkbeat coverage of the bill.)

Durbin praised provisions to help hospitals “hanging by a thread” to meet patients’ needs, small businesses, the airline industry, and households through cash payments. 

“To some people that’s money they desperately need,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pritzker announced a new Illinois Covid Response Fund, which has already raised almost $23 million from philanthropic organizations, businesses and individuals, including $2 million from Pritzker and his wife. The fund, led by the governor’s sister, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, will distribute the dollars to local nonprofits and other organizations on the front lines of the state’s response to the pandemic. 

🔗 It’s official: Illinois can waive standardized tests this spring

The federal government granted the Illinois State Board of Education permission to waive all federally required assessments and accountability measures for the current school year. 

The federal Department of Education quickly approved the state board’s waiver application. This means that all schools across the state will maintain their current state ratings for next school year. Schools that receive extra state funds to improve achievement will continue to get those amounts next year. 

🔗March 25

🔗CPS’ $75 million emergency fund

In a virtual meeting punctuated by the occasional technology glitch and appearance from a child, Chicago’s Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved $75 million for the coronavirus response, allowing leaders to sign contracts and make purchases without prior board approval through June. 

District officials said they need the flexibility to spend on cleaning schools, providing school meals, paying frontline staff — and filling gaps in student access to computers and the internet. 

Until now, Chicago Public Schools has been largely mum about the district’s plans to ramp up remote learning — though officials promised more details later this week.  

Read more here about the district’s plans to double down on devices. And click here to read more details about the $75 million spend, which the union called a “blank check.”

🔗College goers face unprecedented uncertainty
Chicago junior Luz Mayancela posed in 2019 with J.B. Pritzker, now Illinois governor, at Chicago’s Soldier Field, where she took part in an ROTC color guard.

Chicago has seen an increase in students entering college, a source of pride for the district over the past few years. But there’s widespread concern among students, high school counselors, and educators that coronavirus could seriously interrupt that progress this year. Here’s how some students are coping with the disruption. 

Want to read more about the impact of coronavirus and public schools in Illinois? Find our previous coverage here. 

Willing to share your story about the impact on your classroom or on your family? Write us as chicago.tips@chalkbeat.org.