STARTING THE 2020-21 SCHOOL YEAR – Illinois State Board of Education

The COVID-19 pandemic wrought a drastic and unexpected upheaval on Illinois schools and
districts. But with creativity, adaptability, and dedication, Illinois’ leaders, educators, families,
and students rose to the challenge.
This Part Three of the Transition Advisory Workgroup’s recommendations follows Part One,
which focused on closing out the 2019-20 school year, and Part Two, which focused on summer
school and other allowable activities. Part Three now addresses the start of the 2020-21 school
year and the return to in-person instruction.
Since March 17, 2020, Illinois schools and districts have provided students with remote learning
opportunities and continuity of education to the greatest extent possible. However, no amount of technology can replicate the effect of face-to-face interactions and instruction between teachers and students. This Part Three document endeavors to guide schools and districts in transitioning back to in-person learning, while holding paramount the health and safety of students and communities.
ISBE urges schools and districts to plan for and implement the transition to in-person instruction
through the lens of equity. As described in ISBE’s equity statement, “Illinois has an urgent and
collective responsibility to achieve educational equity by ensuring that all policies, programs,
and practices affirm the strengths that each and every child brings within their diverse
backgrounds and life experiences, and by delivering the comprehensive supports, programs, and
educational opportunities they need to succeed.”
This collective responsibility has never been more salient, with the COVID-19 pandemic
exacerbating economic inequalities, heightening the digital divide, and worsening conditions for
students whose mental and physical health and safety was already at risk. The brutal death of
George Floyd and the days of nationwide protests in its wake call upon us as educators to
recommit to eliminating all forms of racism in our school policies. We must be available and
open to hearing students’ concerns. We must root our curricula in the context of what students
see in the world around them. We must value difference.

This is the spirit in which we are providing this Phase 4 guidance. The COVID-19 crisis shook
our structures of teaching and learning to the core, but we have now an opportunity to emerge
stronger and to make lasting changes in the ways we support, teach, connect with, and value each of the 2 million students in our care. This return to school is not “business as usual” but rather the convergence of a new reality in educational excellence in Illinois.

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