ROCHELLE – During his coronavirus press briefing, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, announced all schools in the state of Illinois will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic school year.
The original decision to close schools was announced back in mid-March and students have been learning remotely from home since. The governor’s decision to extend the closures through the end of the academic year comes on the same day the Illinois Department of Public Health recorded 1,842 new cases and 62 additional deaths from COVID-19. This being the highest number of cases reported in a single day in the state.
The decision affects 25.2 million schools across the state and Pritzker says the decision was made based off science and much communication with health experts in the field. While many students will not get to experience the final weeks of their school year, returning to school would go against the state’s top priority of safety.
“Students gather together at school, meet up with all of their friends and then go home to their families, until the next morning when they do it all again,” said Pritzker. “While that routine is a source of joy for so many, it opens up a nearly limitless opportunity for potential COVID-19 infections. At a time when our healthcare workers, researchers, scientists and first responders need us to bend the curve downward.”
To help support preK-12 grade schools affected by the decision, Illinois will receive $569 million dollars from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funds will be distributed to Illinois Public School districts based on the number of low-income students within the district.
The funds can be used to help equip students with technology and internet access to enhance remote learning, as well as assisting schools to continue providing meals to families within the community. Paper packets will also be given out to students who do not have access to technology or internet, to ensure no student falls behind.
Locally, the Rochelle school districts have been planning for this decision and are continuing forward with the remote learning methods they have been implementing the last few weeks. Since the first decision to close schools, teachers have been conducting classes online or through paper packets and the district plans to continue doing so through the end of the school year.
“We are going to continue down the track we are on, providing the best educational opportunities possible for our students,” said Jason Harper, elementary and high school district superintendent. “We will so by using a mix of technology and paper learning opportunities, so that our students can continue to stay engaged in the educational process.”
The district is very proud of its teachers who have worked hard and diligently putting together meaningful learning opportunities for their students. Now that the district knows for certain that their will be no more face-to-face meeting, it is beginning to plan alternative ways to honor its students and staff at the end of the year for graduation.
The district continues to weigh all pros and cons of a variety of different approaches and hopes to have more information soon, as to what it thinks is the best decision for the Rochelle schools. As for one senior at Rochelle Township High School, she says she had a feeling the school would close but was not ready when it officially did.
“I’ve always had the feeling that school would close, but truly hearing it now is insane,” said Gabrielle Harding. “It’s unreal to think that our last seconds in a classroom were on a random day in March. I don’t think I was honestly prepared to let go of all my high school friends and say goodbye to my teachers. I never thought we could possibly lose our senior sports, our senior prom and graduation… I can only hope there’s some way to not completely lose graduation and there’s some way we can still hold a ceremony, no matter how long we have to wait.”
While students may not always enjoy going to school, another senior at RTHS says he misses it a lot. And while he understands that this decision was made for everybody’s protection, he is very sad about the irreplaceable experiences he is missing out on.
“As much as some people don’t like coming to school, it stinks that we aren’t able to spend time with our friends,” said Austin Brown. “I do miss going to school, even if it means doing homework. This takes away many moments I would be spending with my peers through my last quarter of high school. Also, we as a class worked hard not only through high school, but over the last nine years so we could walk across the stage at graduation and receive our diploma. It’s for the best, but we’re losing out on so much that we will never get back.”