Governor J.B. Pritzker announced on June 23 the guidelines for K-12 schools, community colleges and other higher-education institutions to re-open safely for in-person instruction in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan, which is expected to begin on June 26 for all regions of the State,  with strict adherence to public health guidelines such as sanitation and social distancing.

He also said the Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide public K-12 Districts in the State with 2.5 million cloth face masks, one for each student and staff member.

In-person instruction is “strongly encouraged” in Phase 4. A caveat is that schools should not expect to “return to pre-pandemic operations” but should plan to implement social distancing and enhanced sanitation measures and enforce the use of personal protective equipment, including face-coverings.

On June 23, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health issued a pamphlet “Starting the 2020-21 School Year,” which describes the guidelines for all aspects of in-person instruction in the 852 school districts in the State of Illinois.

All public and nonpublic schools in Illinois serving prekindergarten through 12th grade students must follow these IDPH guidelines to ensure the safety of students, staff and their families:

 • Prohibit more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space;

• Require social distancing be observed, as much as possible;

• Require that schools conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or require that individuals self-certify that they are free of symptoms before entering school buildings; and

• Require an increase in school-wide cleaning and disinfection.

The 47-page pamphlet has details and descriptions on such things as child care, social distancing, health and safety protocols, scheduling, transportation, physical education (including gyms, pools and locker rooms) field trips, attendance, instructional recommendations, field trips, back-to-school events, assessing skill levels, special education and English-learning.

Social Distancing

Districts should develop procedures to ensure six-foot physical distance from other persons as much as possible. The expectation pertains to students and staff members in all areas and settings to the greatest extent possible. Districts may wish to post visual reminders throughout school buildings and lay down tape or other indicators of safe distances in areas where students congregate or line up (e.g., arrival and departure, lunchroom lines, hallways, recess lines, libraries, cafeterias).

Districts may wish to consider staggering schedules for arrivals/dismissals, hall passing periods, mealtimes, bathroom breaks, etc. to ensure student and staff safety. Staff and students should abstain from physical contact, including, but not limited to, handshakes, high fives, hugs, etc.

Staff break areas should be arranged to facilitate social distancing. Break times should be staggered to minimize eating with mask off near others.

The guidelines recommend that teachers provide assigned seating for students and require students to remain in these seats to the greatest extent possible. Teachers may also develop a marked path of travel inside the classroom to maintain social distancing from the entry point of the classroom to the student’s assigned seat, rearrange desks so that there is a six-foot distance in all directions between the desks, face desks in the same direction and open windows, if possible, for increased ventilation.

Only supervisors and staff required for instruction will be allowed in the classrooms.

Teachers should also do the following:

  • build time for hand-hygiene and/or schedule hand hygiene breaks, including before/after eating snacks/meals and upon exiting and returning to the classroom;
  • ensure adequate hygiene supplies, including tissues, hand sanitizer, extra face coverings, hand-washing supplies if sinks are present, soap, paper towels, and gloves for staff, are present in the classroom;
  • consider assigning classroom computers to minimize disease transmission;
  • communicate with parents of younger students to discourage their children from bringing any toys from home to school;
  • consider labeling students’ personal items and keeping them in a separate bag to ensure they remain separate from the belongings of other students;
  • where possible, have teachers rather than students move to different classrooms;
  • consider revising activities that combine classes or grade levels or require travel to other buildings;
  • consider synchronously broadcasting in-class instruction to multiple rooms to allow students to spread out.

When possible, content area teachers at the same grade level should work together to explore ways to integrate information from different content areas in multidisciplinary learning experiences. For example, science and social studies teachers can review the Common Core Language Arts Standards for Grades 6-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects and meaningfully incorporate language arts instruction into their courses, in addition to covering their content area standards.

Face Coverings

All individuals in school buildings, including all public and nonpublic schools that serve students in prekindergarten through grade 12, must wear face coverings at all times unless they are younger than 2 years of age; have trouble breathing; or are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.

Face coverings must be worn at all times in school buildings even when social distancing is maintained. Face coverings do not need to be worn outside if social distance is maintained.

It is recommended that schools require physicians’ notes for students and staff who are not able to wear a face covering due to trouble breathing. It is recommended that schools and districts update policies to require the wearing a face covering while on school grounds and handle violations in the same manner as other policy violations.

Teachers may use face shields in lieu of masks. Face shields may be useful in situations where it is important for students to see how a teacher pronounces words (e.g., English Learners, early childhood, foreign language, etc.).


Districts should encourage frequent and proper hand-washing and ensure availability of supplies, such as soap and paper towels, hand sanitizer, tissues, etc., for all grade levels and in all common areas of the building. Cloth towels should not be used. Hand-washing with soap and water is always the first recommended line of defense, but where this is not feasible or readily accessible, the use of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol may be used.

Hands should be washed often with soap and water for 20 seconds. It is recommended that hand hygiene be performed upon arrival to and departure from school; after blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing; following restroom use; before food preparation or before and after eating; before/after routine care for another person, such as a child; after contact with a person who is sick; upon return from the playground/physical education; and following glove removal.

Districts should determine any “hot spots” where germ transmission may easily occur and ensure hand sanitation/hand-washing supplies are readily available.

Health Checks and Dealing With Students Who Become Ill With COVID-19

Schools and districts must conduct temperature and symptom screenings or require self-certification and verification for all staff, students, and visitors entering school buildings.

Among the guidelines are the following:

  • Individuals who have a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit/38 degrees Celsius or currently known symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, fatigue, muscle and body aches, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea may not enter buildings.
  • Individuals who exhibit symptoms should be referred to a medical provider for evaluation, treatment, and information about when they can return to school.
  • Schools hosting allowable activities should designate a safe area to quarantine any individuals who are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms and may be awaiting pickup/evaluation. Students should never be left alone and must always be supervised while maintaining necessary precautions.
  • Attendance personnel should request specific symptom reporting when absences are reported along with COVID-19 diagnoses and COVID-19 exposure.
  • Information should be documented and shared with the health staff or other appropriate personnel and the local health department.
  • In accordance with state and federal guidance, school community members who are sick should not return to school until they have met criteria to return. Schools may wish to consider a symptom checklist for families and staff to use to determine if they are well enough to attend that day.

CDC and IDPH guidelines for students who were suspected of having COVID-19, whether they were tested or not, state that 72 hours must elapse from resolution of fever without fever-reducing medication and 10 days must pass after symptoms first appeared. It is recommended that medically fragile and immune-compromised students consult their medical provider prior to attending school.

Students or staff returning from illness related to COVID-19 should call to check in with the school nurse or building administrator (if a nurse is unavailable) following quarantine.

Other aspects of re-opening schools include instructions on the following matters:

Communication: ISBE recommends establishing clear communication with students, families, and staff about expectations and protocols for all schools and collecting information from students and families via an intake survey/needs assessment to help guide local planning and to connect students and families with resources in advance of the start of the school year.

Learning Loss: The pamphlet cautions that each student will have experienced remote learning uniquely and advises faculty and administrators to pay close attention to assessing and addressing learning loss. ISBE recommends identifying the grade-level standards that students did not cover in the previous school year and providing time for vertical articulation to ensure a smooth transition, especially for students entering new grade bands or schools.

Blended and Remote Learning Days: Public Act 101-0643, the education omnibus legislation passed during the abbreviated special session,  allows every school and district to utilize up to five total Remote and Blended Remote Learning Planning Days, in addition to normal Teacher Institute Days. ISBE recommends dedicating professional learning and collaboration time to developing reintegration assessments; preparing to address students’ mental health needs; evaluating the successes and challenges of remote learning; and training on recognizing and affirming the socio-economic, cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and language diversity of the population within each district.

Teachers and students also will need training on any new technology devices or programs if the school utilizes Blended Remote Learning Days and/or in preparation for intermittent returns to Remote Learning Days. ISBE recommends utilizing teacher leaders, statewide coaching networks, and teacher mentors for ongoing support during the school year.

Grading: ISBE recommends school districts return to traditional grading policies and make modifications as necessary. ISBE strongly recommends that any return to traditional grading policies ensures that students have all the necessary tools, technology, and teacher supports at school and at home to complete all assignments, take assessments, and complete projects in a timely manner.

Protocols for Specific Areas and Activities: The pamphlet provides guidance from IDPH regarding health and safety protocols for specific activities and areas of the school, including new recommendations regarding illness and diagnoses monitoring, mental health, nap time, libraries, auditoriums and multi-purpose rooms, self-contained classrooms, related services, before- and after-care 5 programs, health offices, extracurriculars, playgrounds, dual credit and career and technical education, and field trips.

Requirements Are Subject to Change: The pamphlet cautions that the requirements are subject to change depending on updated public health guidance from changed public health conditions. School administrators and leaders should also prepare for a return to remote instruction, should there be a resurgence of the virus or a second wave in the fall.

Guidance for Community Colleges

 Among the key recommendations are the following:

• In person education will require face coverings to be worn by faculty, staff and students.

• Community colleges should conduct health screenings on employees, students and visitors before each campus visit.

• Community colleges should take additional measures to ensure social distancing and safety as determined by the features of spaces, learning methods, and other factors.

• Each community college should consider the needs of vulnerable staff or students when administering guidelines.

Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Association Reacts to ISBE’s In-Person Instruction Guidelines

The following is a joint statement attributable to Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) President Dan Montgomery and Illinois Education Association (IEA) President Kathi Griffin:

“The guidelines ISBE released today provide a road map as we return to in-person instruction, but they don’t address some of the most pressing concerns that make it difficult to social distance appropriately and monitor the health and well-being of all our education support staff, teachers and students. We are especially concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment and providing a safe learning environment.

It is no secret that remote learning has been a challenge to teachers, parents and students and our membership looks forward to returning to in-person instruction, but anxiety remains high over class sizes and the lack of school nurses and other health and safety resources. We continue to be concerned about the deep disparities that exist in schools, especially in our Black and Brown communities, who still lack access to the internet and computers. We need to also consider our students who live in rural communities and their ability or lack thereof to access information online. Parents, students and community members will feel safe returning to in-person instruction only when it is done safely by reducing class size and having a school nurse and necessary supplies in every school building.

Successfully incorporating the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) guidelines will depend largely on the labor management relationship and whether or not all the support staff, teachers and stakeholders have a real voice in determining what school looks like in our new normal.

We are committed to working with ISBE to help update the guidelines and give better guidance on what to do with crowded classrooms and schools, collective bargaining issues, and the lack of critical staff and resources such as school nurses and PPE. We are very much looking forward to working with our students, and we urge ISBE to assist every school in Illinois in getting the resources needed to keep every student and adult safe.

We are our students’ voice. It is imperative that as plans are developed for the year, we get a chance to ensure the safety of our students and our members, that some of our biggest concerns in this document are addressed, including resources and collective bargaining. We treasure the collaborative relationship we’ve had with ISBE throughout this pandemic and look forward to continuing our work together.”

The following IFT and IEA members served on the Transition Advisory Workgroup: Elaine Barlos, IFT; Mark Brown, IEA; David Caruthers, IFT; Patrice Cogar, IEA; Eric Combs, IEA; Michelle Coriasco, IEA; Marek Dron, IEA; Steven Elza, IFT; Michelle Strater Gunderson, IFT; Lindsey Jensen, IEA; Kimberly Onak, IEA; David del Pozo, IFT; Pilar Rocha, IEA; Jennifer Smith, IEA; Nichole Stone, IEA; Dylan Swank, IEA; and Bridget Westlove, IEA

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...