Illinois becomes latest state to close schools statewide due to coronavirus spread

With the number of Illinois novel coronavirus cases on the rise and a national emergency declaration earlier in the day from the Trump White House, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday he will close all Illinois schools, starting Tuesday.

The closure would extend two weeks through Monday, March 30, and affect nearly 2 million students. 

A state press release suggested that school districts reschedule their spring breaks to coincide with the statewide closure. Chicago Public Schools has planned its spring break for April 6 to April 10. 

“I understand what this means for the families and caretakers of the 2 million students,” Pritzker said, “and none of the choices we have had to make over the last week have been easy or simple. All these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations.” 

Illinois joins 16 other states, including Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, and Washington, in statewide closures. 

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Pritzker said plans are to station an administrator at each school building to handle emergency needs of homeless families and others requiring child care.

Pritzker promised that no school district would see its funding cut as a result of the school closures. 

He also assured districts that the state would ensure students’ access to food. 

“The state board of education has received the necessary waivers to continue to distribute two meals a day to children who qualify for free or reduced lunch,” the governor said, noting that some food manufacturers would work to ramp up the capacity to serve the most vulnerable children. 

He also said that families could have meals delivered directly to their home, or could pick them up from various sites. 

In the days leading up to Pritzker’s decision, Chicago school officials had resisted calls to close schools, arguing that could have serious consequences for working families and that children are at low risk of transmitting the infection or becoming sick. 

But, Pritzker told a group of reporters, closing schools was part of the larger social distancing efforts that will be essential to slowing down the rate of COVID-19 infection in Illinois.  

So far one child in Chicago and one school employee have been diagnosed with the virus.

The Chicago Teachers Union applauded the governor’s decision. 

“Schools are important social institutions, and for that reason we understand this is a complicated and difficult decision,”said union President Jesse Sharkey. “Schools are also places where germs spread easily.” 

The union’s vice president, Stacey Davis Gates, said the state should extend sick leave for all parents of Chicago Public Schools students, and should place a moratorium on evictions. 

In his announcement, Pritzker said he had filed emergency rules granting unemployment benefits to any workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. The governor also said he was initiating a moratorium on utility shut-offs and payment collections. 

This is a developing story.