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Daily Journal
     March 31, 2020      #30-91 KDJ

Mandate relaxes school calendar requirements

By Stephanie Markham

Illinois schools were given more flexibility in adjusting their calendars for mandatory coronavirus closures in an executive order issued Friday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended certain rules dictating school terms and attendance for the duration of his disaster proclamation and gave the Illinois State Board of Education authority to define standards for remote learning moving forward.

The tentative date schools will be allowed to reopen is April 8, but districts have been preparing for the possibility of closures extending for additional weeks, months or the rest of the school year.

Pritzker’s order also officially suspends state testing requirements, including the Constitution test, and ends testing activity statewide for the SAT, the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, the Illinois Science Assessment and Illinois Maps Assessment.

ISBE has stated it is working on options to allow current high school juniors to take the SAT in the fall.

ISBE declared Friday that school districts must implement “remote learning days” starting today. This means any district that hasn’t already begun a remote learning plan will now be required to do so.

School days from March 17 when closures began until today were counted as “act of God” days; during those days, schools were asked to provide enrichment-based lessons without giving grades.

School days from today until in-person instruction resumes will be remote learning days. Districts are still required to hold 176 student attendance days for the entire school year, but instructional days during coronavirus closures will count toward that number.

While these days will not have to be made up at the end of the school year, summer school is not out of the question. Districts are not being restricted from extending the school year into the summer if administrators deem it necessary.

Pritzker’s order specifies that schools are not prohibited from compensating employees for additional time worked as a result of an extension of the school term.

Also starting Tuesday, schools can implement up to five planning days for teachers to work on remote learning plans, and these will count toward student attendance days as well, according to ISBE.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala said in a letter to schools Friday that remote learning days may include an e-learning plan or a remote learning plan that provides students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible.

“Like you, we are eager for life to return to normal, but keeping our communities safe must be our shared priority at this time,” Ayala said in the letter. “I am confident we will get through this together.”

ISBE also released a document Friday containing roughly 60 pages of guidelines for remote learning. This includes the recommendation that districts adopt grading models of pass or incomplete rather than traditional letter grades.

According to ISBE, “Grading should focus on the continuation of learning and prioritize the connectedness and care for students and staff. ... A focus on keeping children emotionally and physically safe, fed, and engaged in learning should be our first priority during this unprecedented time.”

Another recommendation involves non-digital learning materials like library books. ISBE suggests these be distributed, if possible, at food pickup sites, by school bus or in drive-thru pick-up lines at school buildings.

Grading changes

The state is recommending that school districts adopt grading models of pass or incomplete rather than traditional letter grades.

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