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If you want schools to reopen, wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands

Thursday, Jul 2, 2020

* Sun-Times

Goodbye, field trips and perfect attendance awards. Hello, one-way hallways, daily temperature checks and quarantine rooms.

That’s some of what we can look ahead to now that Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave his approval last week for schools in Illinois to reopen for in-class instruction this fall, encouraging schools to welcome back kids and staff under detailed state guidelines aimed at keeping them safe.

In Chicago’s new normal, there will be face masks on everyone over 2, bans on handshakes and any other touching, tons of hand-washing and six-feet social distancing requirements in classrooms, on playgrounds and everywhere else at school. Everyone who enters school buildings will get temperature checks, too.

But how that all will work and what the rest of school is going to look like are among the things still to be decided by school districts in the city, suburbs and statewide as schools face the realities of welcoming back to classrooms kids who are likely to be behind academically after learning from home all spring.

“The COVID-19 crisis shook our structures of teaching and learning to the core, but we have now an opportunity to emerge stronger and to make lasting changes in the ways we support, teach, connect with and value each of the 2 million students in our care,” says a 63-page report from the Illinois State Board of Education. “This return to school is not ‘business as usual’ but rather the convergence of a new reality in educational excellence in Illinois.”

I’m often asked if I think schools and universities really will reopen. I kinda dodge it by saying if the state regresses from Phase 4, then obviously not. But if we keep the flatline going, then yes. Whether they can stay open is the real question.

* Some will certainly become infected. For instance, the San Francisco Bay area has done a remarkable job controlling the virus. Even so

More than 40 school principals in the South Bay are in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 during an in-person meeting held by the Santa Clara Unified School District.

* Some regions may spike again, like this one in Missouri

The Scott County R-4 School District announced all of their facilities will be closed to students for the next two weeks due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in southeast Missouri.

* Kids will on occasion be really stupid

Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have been attending parties in the city and surrounding area as part of a disturbing contest to see who can catch the virus first, a city council member told ABC News on Wednesday.

Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry said students have been organizing “COVID parties” as a game to intentionally infect each other with the contagion that has killed more than 127,000 people in the United States. She said she recently learned of the behavior and informed the city council of the parties occurring in the city.

She said the organizers of the parties are purposely inviting guests who have COVID-19.

“They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense,” McKinstry said. “They’re intentionally doing it.”

* But it comes down to this advice from two epidemiologists

So as the summer gets started, it might seem easy to argue that schools must open for normal business this fall. But we can’t overlook the potential for transmission in the school setting, which can only be reduced and not eliminated. Some tools to reduce that risk definitely work: distancing, hand-washing, mask use, testing and effective tracing and isolation of contacts if a case is found. Yet even as they plan for how to operate safely in person, school systems around the country are also preparing now for how to make online learning work well if they have to shut down again in the event of a large fall surge and extensive community transmission that once again threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

We can avoid that, and keep schools open, if we shift our priorities.

If we want schools to open in a few months and stay open, we need to keep community transmission low. The best way to do that is to suppress the spread of the virus. That means looking at what is reopening and when, and figuring out whether those sectors of the economy are really more important than schools. All reopening will likely increase community transmission to some degree.

So what are we all willing to give up to keep in-person education on the agenda? Can you forgo a night out at a bar or a trip to a casino? Can you give up dining inside a restaurant? What are you willing to give up to ensure that school openings don’t wind up pushing us over the edge? What are we willing to sacrifice? We need to decide where our priorities as a community lie, and in a way we can all support — whether we are ourselves parents, teachers or neither. We need to face this threat together.

* Related…

* College campuses are trying to reopen in the fall. The main source of opposition? The faculty.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:04 am:

    === Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have been attending parties in the city and surrounding area as part of a disturbing contest to see who can catch the virus first, a city council member told ABC News on Wednesday.===

    This is going on when those posters Rich had here with Coach Saban telling people to wear a mask?

    What is going on in Tuscaloosa?

    “Don’t they want football this fall?”

  2. - Can - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:07 am:

    Re-posting my comment from Open Thread (with slight adjustments).

    Remote learning is not ideal, but neither is sending teachers, janitors, office staff, kitchen staff and others into coronavirus germ factories (aka schools). Every time a school has a case, they’ll have to close the school for 14 days, quarantine all the kids and staff, and do a deep cleaning. Not worth it. Just skip all the nonsense and do remote learning.

  3. - Not a Billionaire - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:09 am:

    Illinois outside the 3 northeast metro areas have had the same number of cases throughout the pandemic as Florida just reported today.
    I would like to reverse the bar and stop the the school openings.
    USC reversed on in person. I do not want to be like CalIfornia ……

  4. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:13 am:

    ==Just skip all the nonsense and do remote learning==

    Problem is remote learning doesn’t work for everyone. What do you do with those kids? Just let them fall behind? Unless and until all schools get a better handle on remote learning (and believe me they don’t have that - a lot of my kids teachers were absolutely horrible at it this year) then you need to get kids back in school. Offer remote learning for those kids that want to do it and let the other kids go back to school. My daughter will never survive remote learning. She cannot learn that way.

  5. - No Remote - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:23 am:

    Sorry, but remote learning just doesn’t work. My kids has it and did the assignments each day but it still wasn’t the same. They need to be in class. Wear masks and sanitize each day. What do you do with kids that are unsupervised? Are we just going to pass them along ? Parents can’t just stay at home or work at home while teaching their kids. They are not equipped to do this for another semester.

  6. - OneMan - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:23 am:

    It’s going to be interesting to see what is allowed and what isn’t and what is going to be attempted. I’d really like to be able to ref my football schedule, I do Sophmore games but still have some interesting ones on my schedule. I think if we even try to play it is going to be in front of family (so on the plus side I will be able to hear the individuals question my vision) but I put the odds of that at even 50/50.

    In order to have a shot at that (and a host of other reasons), I am more than willing to wear a mask, eat outside, wash my hands and use hand sanitizer like it will give me a contact high.

    The sad thing is, I think we have illustrated that there are a host of people for a host of reasons who seem unwilling, unable, or incapable of engaging in sacrifice for the benefit of others.

  7. - the Patriot - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:29 am:

    ==Remote learning is not ideal==

    It is also not legal. It does not come close to meeting state and federal law regarding equal access to free public education. Kids with high speed internet and computers get one system, poor kids or those who live in rural areas get another.

    When Madigan and JB passed a budget without massive and immediate cash infusions to schools for tech upgrades, they took remote learning off the table state wide. It is probably too late to even do it if they passed it now.

    The State or Federal Government has not said boo about loosening legal requirements. Schools have to pay attorneys fees when the parents prevail and they are going to prevail.

    We’re going back to school, schools can’t afford the legal costs of not.

  8. - Dotnonymous - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:31 am:

    School kids obey all rules…don’t they?…what could possibly go wrong.

  9. - Dotnonymous - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:33 am:

    Some parents simply want their kids in School…anywhere but home?

  10. - Can - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:34 am:

    == Schools have to pay attorneys fees when the parents prevail and they are going to prevail.

    We’re going back to school, schools can’t afford the legal costs of not.==

    LOL, you’re adorbs! Seriously, what planet do you guys live on?

  11. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:35 am:

    Here we go with the legal nonsense again. What is it about pandemic do some of you not understand. Your first instinct is to go the legal route. Do I agree that it’s not fair to a lot of kids? Absolutely. Do I agree we should go running to lawyers? Absolutely not. I think some of you are trying to make the ambulance chaser lawyers rich.

  12. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:36 am:

    === We’re going back to school, schools can’t afford the legal costs of not.===

    … and yet schools were shut down in the spring, and remote learning occurred.

    Were you on Venus or Mars during the spring school year?

    === When Madigan and JB passed a budget without massive and immediate cash infusions to schools for tech upgrades===

    Should I go back and look specifically for your comments on the state budget, “Madigan” and the Governor?

    Wonder if I’ll find your “concern” with balanced budget and spending out of control.

    Lemme know.

    Last, during a global pandemic, a once in a century catastrophe…

    === It is also not legal. It does not come close to meeting state and federal law regarding equal access to free public education.===

    Remote learning is “equivalent”… but it’s not the same.

    The goal is equivalency, the goal of “same” is impossible.

  13. - efudd - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:37 am:

    This doesn’t get real for a lot of people until football is in jeopardy.

  14. - SAP - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 10:45 am:

    I can think of about a million people who need to read this.

  15. - Mr. Hand - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:06 am:

    Remote learning was so hastily put together in the spring that it had no chance to be effective, I understand that we are in a midst of global pandemic, but school’s being ill-prepared to learn remotely in the 21st century is a bit perplexing. Not saying that given the circumstances that it shouldn’t have faced it challenges, but it should not have been worthless for many students.

    With that said, a fundamental shift in thinking has occurred in education. The state has essentially said space out and wear masks. The rest of the decision-making should be up to local districts. At one point, the local districts were supposed to be the driving decision makers, but over time it has become dependent on the state board of education to tell them what to do.

    Now, with a real opportunity to create a learning environment to best provide for their students and keep them safe, many local leaders want the state to tell them what to do. There will be no one size fits all in the state of Illinois nor should there be.

  16. - JS Mill - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:10 am:

    =Every time a school has a case, they’ll have to close the school for 14 days, quarantine all the kids and staff, and do a deep cleaning. =

    Not sure where you found that information but it is incorrect.

    It is also not legal. It does not come close to meeting state and federal law regarding equal access to free public education. Kids with high speed internet and computers get one system, poor kids or those who live in rural areas get another.=

    What? Again, your information is erroneous. There are no regulations or laws that outlaw the use of remote learning. I am a superintendent in a rural district, our internet access is actually pretty good. We are also a 1:1 district. Starlink is coming so no need for any more huge fiber projects anymore.

    The problem with remote learning is that most schools were not prepared to go full on remote learning. If we were prepared to live stream instruction for students remote learning would be exponentially better. It is something we are working on. The state mandated that students could not be penalized for their work or lack there of. It could only help their grade. That had a huge effect and crippled the process. It won’t be that way the next time.

  17. - Bruce( no not him) - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:13 am:

    My daughter teaches special ed. There was no way for her to remote teach her students. Her teaching is almost all hands on. Her students absolutely got little or no education from remote learning.

  18. - Fixer - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:22 am:

    JS Mill, thank you for what you guys are trying to do. We’re in a rural consolidated district and I know the situation for you and the teachers is less than ideal. Good luck in the fall.

  19. - Hello Friend - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:24 am:


    Driving home from work in Northern Illinois takes me by two bars.

    I can tell you there were people outside both yesterday and they were definitely not wearing any masks. I understand the economic tightrope that the governor has to walk but I’m pessimistic that this will keep us in Phase 4 when the school year begins.

  20. - Can - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:27 am:

    @JS Mill,
    If a student, teacher, or staff person comes down with Covid in one of your schools, what are you guys doing? What are the protocols?

  21. - JS Mill - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:48 am:

    =If a student, teacher, or staff person comes down with Covid in one of your schools, what are you guys doing? What are the protocols?=

    If you go to the ISBE website they have a section for Covid 19. Their guidance is listed there.

    The ROE’s and IASA are facilitating Zoom meetings for discussion and planning. You question is a good one as it is unclear what our responsibility is for contract tracing etc.

    Here is what the ISBE gave us with regard to a symptomatic student-

    In accordance with state and federal guidance, school community members who are sick should
    not return to school until they have met criteria to return. Schools may wish to consider a
    symptom checklist for families and staff to use to determine if they are well enough to attend that
    day. CDC and IDPH guidelines for students who were suspected of having COVID-19, whether
    they were tested or not, state that 72 hours must elapse from resolution of fever without fever-
    reducing medication and 10 days must pass after symptoms first appeared. It is recommended
    that medically fragile and immunocompromised students consult their medical provider prior to
    attending school
    Students or staff returning from illness related to COVID-19 should call to check in with the
    school nurse or building administrator (if a nurse is unavailable) following quarantine.
    Any individual within the school environment who shows symptoms should be immediately
    separated from the rest of the school population. Individuals who are sick should be sent home. If
    emergency services are necessary, call 911. When interacting with students or staff who may be
    sick, school nurses and personnel should follow CDC guidance on standard and transmission-

    It is my impression that the local DPH will conduct contact tracing. We just are not equipped for that, we are here to teach and don’t have a team of investigators etc.

  22. - Frank talks - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:55 am:

    I’m guessing a lot of children are going to fall behind. Not many families have a stay at home parent to work with kids.
    What is a single parent household supposed to do?
    How long can schools try and be a food delivery service? Or have pick up for food?
    Special needs kids have fallen behind as documented in articles, how do you handle that?
    Schools are the lifeblood of so many communities. It’s more than just opening a few books and reading or trying to figure out math on your own via video conference.

  23. - Pylorus - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 11:58 am:

    As a teacher in a rural district I’m very worried about COVID-19’s affect on our to fill sub jobs. Our subs are mainly retired professionals from the immediate area. I would not be surprised if most of them decide not work this school year. A student who contracts COVID-19 can work from home (we’re 1:1 as well), but a losing 3-5 teachers for 2 weeks or more could cause dramatic issues in the school.

    JSMill - I wish you luck and even thicker skin because there’s nothing that school administrators do that will satisfy parents and community members. I hope you have a strong school board.

  24. - zatoichi - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:03 pm:

    For various reason I have been on several long ZOOM meetings recently with interesting topics. After several hours I find myself just fading away. In face to face meetings staying somewhat focused is OK because you are in a live common space/activities. On line there are plenty of readily available attention alternatives. Having a real hard time understanding how remote learning is going to work well particularly with some of my fellow knuckleheads I went through school with.

  25. - Threepwood - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:22 pm:

    Color me very skeptical on the COVID party story. There’s a known phenomenon of rumors starting up about the latest weird craze among The Kids and getting breathlessly repeated by credulous officials and the press. If you read the article carefully there is zero substance presented. Person A heard it from Person B who said C and D also heard it and also some unidentified authorities told A personally it was true too. And this in the context of a trend in blaming The Kids for causing the COVID resurgences.

  26. - ajjacksson - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:44 pm:

    Remote learning doesn’t work.

    There is one group of students for whom it works. Those are the students who really don’t need a teacher but about once a month. They are self driven, and need only assignment sheets and the text to be successful. Remote learning works for them, but they barely need the teacher in the first place.

    For the other 95%, remote learning does not work.

  27. - ajjacksson - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:51 pm:

    And for all of you who disagree with me….were you a teacher running remote learning? I was. Thankfully, many of my students were preparing for an AP Test, so they were engaged. Otherwise, the serious engagement rate was around 10%.

    It’s not that I wasn’t working. I worked harder this semester than the previous 99 semesters I’ve taught (exaggeration intentional). So unless you’ve actually been a teacher and tried remote learning, or have been a parent whose kids were “doing” remote learning while both parents were working at home, spare me the lectures. I stand by what I said. Remote learning, for the bottom 95% of all K-12 students, doesn’t work. Lack of social content is also detrimental.

  28. - ajjacksson - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:52 pm:

    ….lack of social contact is also detrimental.

  29. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:53 pm:

    ==Remote learning doesn’t work.==

    Agreed. At least not for one of my kids. It’s not fair to simply leave these kids behind and punish them because they do not do well with remote learning. Some kids need that in person instruction. Or teachers need to do a far, far, far, far better job of making sure their students are keeping up with and understanding the materials. That was most certainly not the case at the end of this year. But, again, I don’t believe remote learning is an acceptable education option for many kids.

  30. - Mason born - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 12:58 pm:

    I think we’ll have schools. It’s not ideal but schools are the primary daycare for a lot of workers. Not all of whom will be able to work from home once offices open. In person learning will be better for most kids but i think the factor will have more to do with taking away the daycare aspect.

  31. - Still Waiting - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 1:09 pm:

    ISBE’s guidance also states the following for when a student or staff member is exhibiting symptoms at school: “Any individual within the school environment who shows symptoms should be immediately separated from the rest of the school population. Individuals who are sick should be sent home. . . Individuals who did not have close contact with the person who is sick can return to work immediately after disinfection. Those who had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected of having COVID-19 infection should isolate at home and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. Close contact means the individual was within 6 feet of the individual with symptoms for more than 15 minutes.” (p.31)
    Now, suppose I can’t we can’t get subs because most of them are retired teachers who don’t want to take the risk. That leaves the principal to try to fill in. Say he teaches 3 hours before finding another teacher with an open hour to cover while he attends a district meeting or IEP meeting, and then later that evening feels ill and ends up positive. That will lead to a huge number of people having to isolate for 14 days.

    It also is a ready-made excuse for some of our students to stay out of school pretty much all year even if we have in-person instruction every day. Each time they get out of isolation, they undoubtedly will have the unfortunately luck of being around someone who tested positive somewhere, supposedly. It’s not like they have to supply proof of that to the school.

  32. - ChrisB - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 1:26 pm:


    Remember Rainbow Parties? That was repeated breathlessly on Oprah, and my friends were wondering where they were happening.

  33. - Ano - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 1:27 pm:

    Im a bit confused.

    I’ve heard much said about teaching……that anyone can do it. That kids learn in spite of their teachers. So, explanations are in order.

    What legal recourse will adults in schools have if infected/hospitalized/ die because of contracting COVID from a student? I certainly hope there is no waiver of the right to take legal action because of this. On the other hand, should a child get seriously sick from a school infection, do parents have option for legal action?

    In my suburban area, by the way, reports are that remote learning has been very successful. Motivated students.

  34. - Huh? - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 1:59 pm:

    “Color me very skeptical on the COVID party story”

    Disagree. I am of the age when parents held parties to intentoonally spread mumps, measles, and chickenpox. It was a time when vaccinations for these diseases were not available. They were viewed as ordinary childhood diseases.

    The mere idea of someone holding a party to intentionally spread covid19 is entirely logical. It is an indication that many people don’t view this disease as a threat.

  35. - Bourbon Street - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 2:00 pm:

    ==I’ve heard much said about teaching…that anyone can do it==

    Um, no…just no—not everyone can teach.

    ==Goodbye, field trips and perfect attendance awards==

    Being an optimist, I like to look for the silver lining. If one of the consequences of the “new normal” is dumping “perfect attendance awards”, I’m all for it. I went to high school with a classmate who was hell-bent on getting the “Perfect Attendance For All Four Years Award” (or whatever it was called) and the rest of us had to deal with the fall-out of her coughing, sneezing, and hacking whenever she got a cold or the flu. Some of the teachers tried to get her to go home when she was sick so that she wouldn’t infect the rest of us but she refused. When she finally got her Award at graduation very few people applauded.

  36. - Morty - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 2:18 pm:

    Schools are going to be complete chaos in the fall.

    There’s just no way to avoid it.

    What iISBE has put forth as guidance will have no practical application unless a vaccine is available.

    There won’t be a vaccine available.

    Seperate each kid by six feet?
    Make sure they have masks on?
    Make sure they are not touching?
    Quarantine a student until a parent pickup?
    Students should stay home if they are sick?
    Self-quarantine as an employee for 14 days?

    Wishful thinking, at best.

    Not that is possible, but I’d love to see the demographic overlap of people who are saying ‘schools must open at all costs’ with ‘I have a right not to wear a mask and my kid won’t either’ with ‘There’s no way I’m going to support a school referendum that will raise taxes’ and ‘teachers are overpaid’.

    I really would.

    But like the ISBE guidance- that’s a fantasy.

  37. - Mr. Hand - Thursday, Jul 2, 20 @ 2:23 pm:

    “There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.” - Gandhi

    Remote learning/blended learning is not ideal, but on-site learning is not perfect either. Compulsory education has taken the responsibility of a child’s learning/education away from the family. Ultimately, successful learning can take shape in many different fashions and doesn’t have to happen at school. However, families might have to priortize differently.

    As for students that do not have strong family structures. In general, schooling is a struggle, and has not necessarily provided great results (IE CPS). Unions, comfortability, status quo are all barriers to actually creating a learning system that is more modern and more accessible to all.

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