On March 27, Illinois Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala declared that “Remote Learning Days” will begin for schools statewide on March 31 and continue until in-person instruction can resume.

In light of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s decision on March 31 to continue the Stay-at-Home order until April 30, schools will be closed until at least April 30 and “Remote Learning Days” will be in place until at least then.

On March 31, District 65 announced that its schools will be closed until April 30, and that it will develop a Remote Learning Plan in accordance with the guidance received from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and that it will implement its plan when Spring break ends on April 13.

On April 1, Evanston Township High School announced that, in compliance with the Governor’s order, the high school will be closed until April 30, and that it will continue to use e-learning until April 3, and then provide additional guidance before Spring break ends on April 13.

“During Remote Learning Days, schools may implement either an E-Learning Plan or a Remote Learning Day Plan that provides students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible. Schools may use up to five Remote Learning Planning Days at any time after March 30 to work on Remote Learning Day Plans in partnership with their collective bargaining units,” said Dr. Ayala.

Dr. Ayala said that both Remote Learning Days, Remote Learning Planning Days, and Act of God Days will count as actual student attendance days. The Act of God days are the days that schools were closed during March due to COVID-19 crisis.

All of these days count toward the minimum length of the school year and do not need to be made up.

Rules for Remote Learning Days

ISBE has adopted emergency rules for a Remote Learning Day Plan.  The rules provide that the plan shall address the following:

  • Accessibility of the remote instruction to all students enrolled in the school or district,
  • When applicable, a requirement that the Remote Learning Days activities reflect the State learning standards,
  • Means for students to confer with an educator, as necessary,
  • The unique needs of students in special populations, including, but not limited, students eligible for special education, students who are English learners, students experiencing homelessness, or vulnerable student populations, and
  • Transitions from remote learning to on-site learning, when the crisis is over.

A Remote Learning Advisory Group, appointed by ISBE, has prepared a 63 page report containing recommendations relating to instruction and to grading during Remote Learning Days.

At the outset, the Advisory Group stresses flexibility.  The report says, “We call upon everyone to assume flexibility and grace for all. At this moment, we will all need to model resilience, critical and creative thinking, thoughtful responsiveness, and empathy to ensure that students continue to grow personally, academically, and linguistically.”

The report says the remote learning may be “real-time or flexibly timed,” that it cannot be assumed that every family or every student has access to computers or tablets or access to the internet, and that “in many cases students categorized as ‘at risk’ by schools are the ones without access to devices or reliable internet.”

The report summarizes the Advisory Group’s recommendations on instruction “strongly” encourage:

•Planning for remote learning that respects the needs of all students and staff

•Implementing remote learning that attends to the diversity of each community to ensure that all students have access to equitable educational opportunities

•Meticulously documenting the best efforts possible being made under the current emergency conditions with regard to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and Section 504 Plans

•Structuring active student engagement with learning in accordance with the age-appropriate thresholds

•Selecting content for remote learning that is aligned to standards, relevant, and appropriate for each student

•Practicing consistent communication with students, families, and staff to understand how the health emergency is impacting them.”

The report summarizes the group’s recommendations on grading as follows:

•The emphasis for schoolwork assigned, reviewed, and completed during the remote learning period is on learning, not on compliance

 •Grading should focus on the continuation of learning and prioritize the connectedness and care for students and staff. All students should have the opportunity to redo, make up, or try again to complete, show progress, or attempt to complete work assigned prior to the remote learning period in that time frame. A focus on keeping children emotionally and physically safe, fed, and engaged in learning should be our first priority during this unprecedented time.

•Local districts should develop alternate methods of assessment for career and technical education course work, where appropriate, including use of video, electronic submission, etc.

•Dual credit policies should be developed in conjunction with partner institutions

 •More broadly, nothing in this recommendation is intended to replace or supersede federal or state law, contracts, or collective bargaining agreements or established past practice

Suspending State Assessments

On March 27, Governor JB Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-15, , which suspends the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, the Illinois Science Assessment, the SAT, and Dynamic Learning Maps-Alternate Assessment for the 2019-20 school year.

ISBE says it is working with the College Board, the owner of the SAT, to develop options to allow current 11th graders to take the SAT in the fall.

On March 30, ETHS announced that the College Board will administer AP exams. For the 2019-20 AP exams only, students can take a 45-minute online exam.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...