School districts across Illinois grapple with reopening plans

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Illinois, school districts are scrambling to put in place reopening plans after the holiday break.

A vast majority of downstate school districts will be providing in-class instruction to begin the semester, including in Bloomington, Effingham and Champaign.

“I have been communicating regularly with other area school superintendents, ROE, CUPHD, and various community partners during the break. Based on guidance I have received, I am not looking to close schools or transition to remote learning at this moment,” Champaign Superintendent Shelia Boozer said in a statement.

Some have decided to begin the semester remotely, including districts in the Metro East. East St. Louis Schools Superintendent Arthur Culver said the local health department suggested delaying opening classrooms for a month.

“We decided to take a look at things in two weeks to see whether or not if the numbers have gotten better,” Culver said.

Other school districts are also starting remotely, including in New Lenox, Normal and Edwardsville.

Some are extending their winter break, including in Peoria.

“In the two weeks since our winter break began, an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases both locally and nationally has occurred due to the emergence of the omicron variant. To prepare for continued in-person learning in the face of the new variant, the Peoria Public Schools winter break for students will be extended through the week of Jan. 3 through Jan. 7,” Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said on the district’s Facebook page.

There is a battle brewing in the state’s largest school district. The Chicago Teachers Union planned to vote Tuesday to urge Chicago Public Schools to switch to remote learning because of a spike in COVID-19 cases. CPS students just returned to class Monday after winter break, but union leaders contend the classroom is not safe for teachers.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said if the union votes to go remote, classes would be canceled Wednesday but schools will remain open for students. Martinez said he was frustrated by school safety falsehoods.

“The amount of noise that is out there right now, the amount of misinformation, we have so many people that are afraid, from parents to my staff, because of misinformation and I again, I continue to plead, let’s listen to our medical professionals,” Martinez said.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said kids are safer in schools and are more likely to get COVID-19 in the community.

“This is pretty much the flu and we don’t shut down schools for extended periods for the flu,” Arwady said.