By Zeta Cross
(The Center Square) – The playbook for Illinois’ 2021-2022 school year was a return to in-person learning, with a limited number of students who would require remote learning. That has changed.
“With the directive to return to in-person learning, everyone geared up for that,” Thomas Bertrand, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, told The Center Square.
But as the numbers of COVID-19 cases climbed, however, the playbook had to be amended. Children who were identified as close contacts of someone with COVID-19 were required to quarantine, greatly expanding the numbers of children who are eligible to be remote learners.
Bertrand said the change in guidance has had local school districts scrambling.
“Districts weren’t prepared for that volume,” Bertrand said.
Compounding the problem, there is no clear guidance for school boards and school districts when it comes to who should quarantine, he stated.
“If the guidance changes related to what constitutes a close contact and an exposure – and how many cases constitute an outbreak in a school, those things can play into how many students might be under quarantine,” Bertrand said.
School boards are looking for clarity, Bertrand noted.
“Whenever possible, the guidance needs to be clear. It needs to be consistent. And it needs to remain the same,” he said.
School board members cite lack of consistency when it comes to guidance from local health departments, Bertrand said.
“Some health departments are issuing quarantine orders and others are not,” he said. “Technically, under the law, there needs to be a quarantine order for a child to be placed in quarantine, and then be eligible for remote learning.”
Even the courts are not consistent, Bertrand said. At least two courts in Illinois have said that school districts do not have the authority to quarantine students without an order, he said.
On Sept. 17, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order to clarify some of the issues regarding quarantine.
As the Illinois Association of School Boards sees it, local school boards are in the best position to determine what should happen in their school districts.
“Local school districts and local school boards are in the best position to assess their own situations locally,” Berstand said. “We have a very diverse, very large state. Conditions vary from one end of the state to the other. That is why we are such an advocate of local control because one size often does not fit all.”
Schools are doing their best despite these difficult and ever changing times.
“Certainly there has been a loss of local control during this pandemic. That in itself is very frustrating,” Bertrand said. “In my 38 years in public education, this is – by far – as difficult a condition as I have ever seen. It’s not even close to what might have been second.”