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Schools FAQ: How Long Will The K-12 School Shutdown Last?

Updated 4:44 p.m. March 31

WBEZ is answering your questions about the coronavirus in Illinois. Have a question? Ask us here.

All public and private elementary and high schools in Illinois are closed at least through at least April 30 under an order from Gov. JB Pritzker. We’re monitoring this developing story for news that applies to families with children in school — in the greater Chicago area, primarily — so check back for updates.

Parents (and students), here are answers to your pressing questions, researched and reported by WBEZ’s education team:

How long will the K-12 school shutdown last?

Through at least April 30.

Under an order from Gov. JB Pritzker, the school closure will continue through April 30. Schools had been tentatively scheduled to resume on April 8, but the governor extended that order on March 31. This applies to all private and public schools. Chicago Public Schools had been scheduled to resume on April 21.

In terms of instruction, the Illinois State Board of Education said “remote learning days” officially began on March 31. This means remote learning days will count as instructional days, and school districts should have firm plans for schooling from home. These days do not have to be made up.

The state says schools can implement e-learning or remote learning plans that provide “students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible.” This is a nod to the reality that many districts and families do not have adequate access to technology.

What are “remote learning days?”

This is a term coined by the state for at-home schooling during the coronovirus shutdown starting March 31.

These days will count as instructional days and won’t need to be made up at the end of the year. School districts are required to have firm plans for schooling from home for every remote learning day. Districts can use up to five remote days for planning.

The state is offering school districts considerable flexibility in executing remote learning days. They can be online only or paper and pen only, depending on the needs and technical capabilities of individual communities.

The state considered the first two weeks of the statewide school shutdown, from March 17 to March 30, to be “Act of God” days. These days also do not have to be made up at the end of the year.

A child studies with his mother in front of a computer
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Remote learning days will count as instructional days and won’t need to be made up at the end of the year.

Are statewide standardized tests canceled in Illinois?

Yes. Under an executive order signed by Gov. JB Pritzker on March 27, all spring standardized tests are canceled.

This includes the SAT for high school juniors and math, English and science exams for elementary school students. The Constitution exam also is canceled.

The Illinois State Board of Education said it is aware that the free SAT provided by the state is the only chance many students get to take a college entrance exam. It said it is working with the College Board, which administers the SAT, to allow current 11th grade students to take the SAT in the fall.

These exams are required under federal law but the State Board of Education has applied for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. On March 27, the state board said it expects to receive formal approval soon.

On March 19, Chicago Public Schools canceled all district-administered standardized tests this spring because the school shutdown is extended until April 21.

Will school districts be required to add days to make up for time lost during the closure?

No. The mandated school closure days from March 17 to March 30 count as “Act of God” days. The state says these days count toward the 176 annual required student attendance days and do not have to be made up at the end of the year.

Illinois on March 31 moves into so-called “remote learning days.” These days also will count as instructional days and school districts are supposed to have firm plans for schooling from home beginning then.

The state says schools can implement e-learning or remote learning plans that provide “students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible.” This is a nod to the reality that many districts and families do not have adequate access to technology.

Finally, under an order issued by Gov. JB Pritzker on March 27, the state opened the door for school districts to extend into the summer. “Nothing in this executive order,” it reads, “shall prohibit school employees from receiving compensation, on the basis of their regular contracts, for additional time worked as a result of an extension of the school term.”

Can school work assigned during the shutdown count toward student grades?

Yes, with an important caveat. On March 27, the Illinois State Board of Education urged school districts to adopt grading models of “pass” or “incomplete.” This builds on previous state guidance that student assignments during the closure should only count if they improve a student’s grade.

However, the state’s remote learning recommendations released on March 27 also said school districts could “use a traditional grading structure (A-F) for students who would benefit from grades other than pass/incomplete” — with some restrictions. The state says a student’s grade should only be improved or maintained (and not decreased) and no Fs should be given out.

The rationale for not having school work count is that many schools aren’t ready for e-learning. The biggest challenges are student access to broadband and digital devices. Also, many accommodations required by law for students with special needs aren’t possible while school is closed.

The state says schools can implement e-learning plans that rely on technology, or remote learning plans that rely on paper and pencil. It is stressing flexibility and urging districts to adopt what works for its students.

In Chicago, school district officials told staff the following regarding grading: “Teachers can choose to grade and count student work completed during the closure … as long as it helps improve a students’ academic standing.”

A child does homework with a calculator
Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press
The state says a student’s grade should only be improved or maintained during the shutdown.

Are Advanced Placement exams still happening?

Yes, but not at school. The College Board, which administers the May AP exams, says traditional face-to-face exam administrations will not take place. Students will take a 45-minute free-response exam online at home.

AP exams are given to high school students in a range of subjects, from chemistry and world history to drawing.

For each AP subject, there will be two different testing dates. The full schedule for each exam, question types and additional details will be available by April 3, according to the College Board.

The College Board says students will be able to take exams on a range of devices — computer, tablet or smartphone. Taking a photo of handwritten work will also be an option. If a student needs mobile tools or connectivity they can reach out to the College Board for help.

The SAT college entrance exam that was scheduled for May 2, which is also administered by the College Board, has been canceled.

Will colleges and universities be reimbursing students?

Yes, many are reimbursing for living expenses. Over the past few weeks, thousands of college students across Chicago were told to move out of university residence halls as colleges tried to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Many universities across Illinois have told students they are prorating their room and board and meal plans for this semester, including the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. Both schools were among those that required students to leave residential housing if they had a safe place to go.

The Chicago Business Journal estimates universities in the Chicago area could refund students more than $170 million for housing, meal plans and other services. Some local students, including those at DePaul University, have petitioned to have schools reduce tuition for the semester. They argue “the educational services offered are not equal to services rendered,” according to a petition on Change.org. The University of Illinois system estimates it will cost $35 million to reimburse students for housing and dining costs at its campuses in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign.

A student walks past a University of Illinois sign
The University of Illinois system estimates it will cost $35 million to reimburse students for housing and dining costs at its campuses in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign.

Can my children invite friends over?

This is strongly discouraged. On March 20, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a "stay at home" order. The order, effective March 21 though April 7, requires all so-called nonessential workers and residents to stay home. 

The head of the Illinois Department of Public Health on March 18 also urged children to avoid in-person play dates and hangouts.

“If you're a kid … don't undermine the school closures by now creating play dates with a bunch of your friends that you would have been at school [with],” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “That just negates the benefit of the school closure. If you’re a tween, the same thing. Don’t call everyone over and socialize. We’ve got to limit our exposure at all levels, at every age.”

In an essay titled “This is Not A Snow Day,” Dr. Asaf Bitton urged an end to all play dates. Bitton is a primary care physician and public health researcher affiliated with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“This sounds extreme because it is,” Bitton wrote in the widely shared essay posted on Medium. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent.”

If you’re outside with a friend, Bitton said to try to maintain at least six feet between you and that person.

Can students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch at school still get free meals?

Yes. Chicago Public Schools is distributing food bags from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily at its schools. Families can go to any building.

The state says school districts should distribute two meals a day for any child who qualifies for free or reduced price lunch. Gov. Pritzker has been encouraging schools to expand the effort to all children.

A sign pointing to free meal pick up at Frederic Chopin Elementary School
Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ
A sign points to free meal pick up at Frederic Chopin Elementary School.

Can I still send my child to the Chicago Park District for child care? 

No. The Chicago Park District had been offering programming for children at 18 sites, but as of March 21 all Park District facilities are closed. This is due to Gov. JB Pritzker's "stay at home"  directive effective March 21 though April 7.

Can day care centers remain open? 

No. The governor's "stay at home" order closes licensed child care centers and all child care homes serving more than six children from March 21 to April 7.

The Pritzker administration said it s working to expand the availability of child care for essential workers.

City officials on March 16 said the Department of Family & Support Services (DFSS) was told by federal and state funders that financial support will remain available for all early learning and child care agencies while operations are temporarily interrupted.

Follow WBEZ’s education team on Twitter @WBEZeducation or @soosieon, @sskedreporter, @AdrianaCardMag, @McGeeReports and @KateGrossman1.

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