Illinois governor signs bill that opens the door for schools to blend in-person and remote learning in fall

J.B. Pritzker speaks during his primary election night victory in 2018 (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law Thursday that will give school districts the flexibility to hold classes in school buildings and provide remote learning this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues. 

“Educators and administrators are doing what they do best, helping students continue to learn, providing meals, and looking out for the wellbeing of our children and families,” Pritzker said in a press release. “This legislation will support that critical work.”

The bill comes just as the Illinois State Board of Education is expected to release its fall guidelines for school districts to safely reopen. It gives school districts leeway to offer both  in-person instruction and remote learning during a public health emergency, a “blended” option that could still be necessary in the fall. With the legislation, school districts can switch between in-person instruction days and remote-learning days throughout the academic year. Up to five planning days also can be considered attendance days. 

“We emphasize in-person learning for all students to the greatest extent possible, while realizing that may not be feasible in all situations. Schools that plan to utilize blended remote learning days should consider equity and prioritize in-person learning for our students with greater needs,” State Superintendent Carmen Ayala said.

Pending a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, the bill also waives student assessment requirements. 

To assist teachers, the bill provides a year-long licensure extension for those whose licenses were set to expire on June 30. Performance ratings for educators will carry over from the previous evaluation period. 

Early child care providers will receive grants from the state’s school board to care for the children of essential workers who are under the age of 12 years old. 

The law also requires that parents of students with individualized education plans receive copies of all written materials used during a meeting to determine a child’s eligibility for special education and related services. Parents can decide how they want to receive those materials prior to the meeting. 

In a statement, Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, praised the governor for signing the bill, saying, “Through executive orders, and now the signing of this legislation, the governor is sending a clear message that in these difficult times our focus should be on meeting the basic instructional, social, and emotional needs of students and not testing and bureaucracy. We applaud this effort. ” 

At the state school board meeting on Wednesday, advocates raised concerns about providing teachers with professional development, how to assess students’ learning, and how to help students who could be dealing with trauma when they return to school in the fall. 

“We need to be sure that we are doing recovery in a way that recognizes that there have been inequities coming into this crisis, inequities that have been exacerbated by this crisis. One thing we should be working incredibly hard at this stage is to make sure that we do not compound those inequities with how we approach recovery,” Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, said.

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