Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Illinois temporarily closes all schools

The Illinois State Board of Education announced on Friday that all schools will be closed and activities cancelled from Tuesday, March 17, through March 30.

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala issued a letter on Friday that mandates the closure of schools from March 17 through March 30.

“This mandatory closure takes effect Tuesday, March 17. Currently, we anticipate the closure to last through March 30,” she wrote. “If your district’s spring break is scheduled outside of this window, please consider moving your spring break to within this time frame. You no longer need to report school closures to ISBE during this time.”

About 20 million students are affected by statewide shutdowns in at least 18 states, as of Saturday evening, but more can be expected.

The closures take place during spring sports season finals and several spring musicals in our schools. Postponement is an option, but it is unknown how long closures will last.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta issued guidance on Saturday stating that although a disinfecting period of a few days is called for with schools, short-term closures, such as two or four weeks, may have very little effect on mitigating the spread of coronavirus. In addition, short-term closures “may also increase impact on older adults who care for grandchildren. Waiting to enact school closures until at the correct time in the epidemic (e.g., later in the spread of disease) combined with other social distancing interventions allows for optimal impact despite disruption.”

The CDC has also considered closures of a medium-to-long length, “i.e., 4–8 weeks or more of closure.” They say these long-term closures “may” have an effect, a conclusion based on evidence from assorted coronavirus mitigation efforts throughout the world:

Available modeling data indicate that early, short to medium closures do not impact the epi curve of COVID-19 or available health care measures (e.g., hospitalizations). There may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread, but that modelling also shows that other mitigation efforts (e.g., handwashing, home isolation) have more impact on both spread of disease and health care measures. In other countries, those places who closed school (e.g., Hong Kong) have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not (e.g., Singapore).

The school closures in 18 states currently range from two weeks to four weeks and are considered short-term by the CDC’s definition. Officials everywhere, though, are continuously evaluating the fluid situation and could announce extensions of the shutdowns at any time.

Meanwhile, school officials look to ensure the continuity of learning and the provision of meal and nutrition services for students during the closures.

“The U.S. Department of Education has communicated that it will make waivers available for assessments and accountability,” Ms Ayala wrote in the letter from Illinois. “ISBE will work in partnership with stakeholders to determine next steps for Illinois.” In addition, “ISBE has already obtained the USDA waiver to provide meals during school closures, including
to children under 5.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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