State Issues Back-to-School Resolution for this Fall
Illinois public school students are on track to return to full-time in-person learning in the fall thanks to the newly available COVID-19 vaccinations for kids 12 and up and a back-to-school resolution from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
In a unanimous vote May 19, ISBE approved the resolution that "all schools must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days" in the fall. Most students in the state are currently in a blended remote/in-person learning model. The resolution calls for some remote learning, including for students who are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
The resolution, ISBE said, does not affect policy. Such a change will happen with a declaration from State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala. She expects to finalize a declaration at the end of this school year, after taking health conditions into consideration.
Among health considerations is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which was approved for children ages 12 through 15 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 12. One week later, 53,953 kids in that age range had been vaccinated in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The CDC is reporting more than 600,000 vaccinations for adolescents in that age range nationwide. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said more than 4.1 million kids ages 12 to 17 in the United States, including her 16-year-old son, have been vaccinated. (Note: 16 and 17 year-olds have been vaccine-eligible for 4 weeks.) Approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 2 through 11, meanwhile, is expected as early as September.
Wider availability of vaccinations for adolescents and ISBE’s moves come as the state heads toward Phase 5 of the “Restore Illinois” plan. That phase, which would permit a return to a “new normal,” could happen by June 11, Gov. JB Pritzker said. With COVID-19 metrics improving, the state is in the Bridge Phase, a transitional period between Phase 4 and Phase 5.
“We're closer than ever to a return to normalcy,” Pritzker said in a statement. “To keep up this progress, I urge every eligible Illinoisan — now including 12- to 15-year-olds — to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
ISBE has not mandated that eligible students get a vaccine. But in a message on May 11, Ayala encouraged every school district to host a vaccination event before the end of the school year “to visibly support vaccination and leverage the school community to improve vaccine uptake.”
A mass vaccination event at Deerfield High School held on May 16 drew more than 3,000 people, mainly ages 12 to 17, for their first of two Pfizer vaccinations, the Deerfield Review reported. The kids, the paper said, came from 10 school districts in Lake County.
Also in Lake County, the Health Department planned a School Spirit Day on May 23 at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake, inviting youths ages 12 and older and their families to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
“Teens and young adults now represent the majority of new cases of COVID-19 in Lake County,” Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said in a statement.
Vaccinations for adolescents and plans for a return to full-time in-person learning have been controversial, with parents divided on the issues. Nearly 300 people commented on ISBE’s Facebook page post about the back-to-school resolution, with views ranging from “Remote learning should be an option for all children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated!” to “No vaccines for my children.”
An informal poll by the Illinois Patch on vaccinating kids aged 12 to 15 had nearly 1,400 responses, with the majority of parents — more than 65 percent — in favor compared with 34.7 percent against.
Those favoring the vaccine include parents seeking a return to normal schedules for school as well as school sports and other activities upended by the pandemic. Protests last fall drew hundreds of parents and students to Springfield, Naperville, Wheaton and Barrington to demand a return to in-person learning and to the football field. Football this school year had a shortened spring season with no state championship.
“I think the expansion of the vaccine does give us hope that we’ll return to all of our sports and activities starting on time and being able to culminate with state championships,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson.
Vaccines are also expected to limit the close-contact quarantines that kept many students out of school and activities for as long as two weeks. People who are fully vaccinated, the CDC says, may skip quarantine following a known exposure if they are asymptomatic
In a year of so much upheaval, Anderson said, the silver lining has been the added appreciation for things that may have been taken for granted like kids being and working with classmates, the presence of spectators at school events and competitions and the opportunities that sports and other activities offer. “Those,” he said, “are all real positive things.”
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