Editor's Note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat
“We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move with urgency,” Pritzker said. “I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family, your friends and your community. One small step at a time, we will get through this together.”
Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Robert Werden said the governor informed him and other superintendents about the decision in a conference call Friday. Werden says he approves.
“We’re in unprecedented times that call for drastic measures,” Werden said. “It has been a very difficult and trying time for all our districts. ... But this is the best decision for the safety of our students.”
Closing schools will have a significant impact on minimizing the spread of COVID-19, said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
“We have seen evidence from influenza outbreaks that community mitigation strategies, such as school closures, have an effect on decreasing the severity of the outbreak,” Ezike said.
Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch will still have access to two meals a day during the closure either through delivery or parent pick-up, Pritzker said. School personnel will continue to be paid through the closure.
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said she urges each district to keep one administrator at school during the closure in case students or parents turn up.
Asked why the closure begins on Tuesday instead of Monday, Pritzker said he wanted to give teachers a chance to prepare lesson plans and talk to their students about plans for the next two weeks. Werden said teachers in the regional district have been preparing e-learning packets for the past week or two in anticipation of a closure.
The announcement takes the state’s guidance a step further from Thursday, when Pritzker told schools to avoid holding large assemblies or sporting events with more than 250 people. The governor announced that no crowds over 1,000 should gather for the next 30 days in addition to canceling all major sporting events until May 1.
Friday brought 14 new cases of COVID-19 to Illinois, increasing the total to 46 cases. No confirmed cases have yet appeared south of Cook County and the collar counties, but the governor said “everybody is susceptible” and warned the disease “is coming.”
Earlier Friday, the Catholic Diocese of Springfield closed all schools in its territory.
Other events around the Metro East were canceled because of COVID-19 concerns. The governor’s decision impacts more than two million students.
Kelsey Landis is a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
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