Bloomington-Normal students and teachers got their first taste of their new reality Monday as schools began what will be at least a two-week shutdown because of the coronavirus.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Joe Lewis, a Bloomington High School teacher and president of the Bloomington Education Association. “We’re all trying to get something together for students without having much time to prepare, and without knowing what the future holds. There are just so many unanswered questions that the pandemic has brought on.”
Twin City teachers reported to work Monday to prepare for remote-learning opportunities for their students. However, that work was lessened when the state announced the closure days (Tuesday through March 30) will now be considered Act of God Days. That means they don’t count as instructional days or formal e-learning days. It also means they don’t need to be made up at the end of the school year.
Instead, the state has empowered districts to provide “continuous learning opportunities” on those days, through whatever means possible. That could be similar to what might be provided over extended time off such as winter or summer break, said Ben Matthews, UniServ director for the Illinois Education Association. He works closely with teachers’ unions representing Unit 5 and District 87 employees.
“We’re encouraging students to review and practice skills they’d been working on,” Matthews said. “But we’re not doing new lessons. None of the work in the next two weeks will be graded or impact a student’s grade at all.”
District 87 is implementing what it’s calling eLearning on March 18-20 and March 30. But it’s different than the district’s plan that was rolled out earlier this year—the one that’s ready to deploy when there’s a short-term snow day, for example.
On Monday, District 87 teachers were busy coordinating Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, preparing work-at-home packets to be sent to elementary-level families, and sending out online learning materials to junior and high schoolers, said Lewis.
They were also clearing off desks and other surfaces in their classrooms, so that cleaning crews can come through over the break, Lewis said.
“And trying to get all that done in one day, in an effective way … people were nervous coming in, but by the end of the day, we got it done,” Lewis said late Monday.
There are many unanswered questions, Lewis said. Lewis, for example, teaches Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Those students are scheduled to take College Board-administered tests in early May.
“And every day is almost impossible to make up,” Lewis said.
Normal Community High School senior Emily Dusin said the decision to close the schools was the right call. Dusin said she plans to spend her free time doing homework, studying for her AP exams, and reading.
However, Dusin said it’s difficult because senior year includes so many capstone experiences of your K-12 experience—things like prom and graduation. It’s unclear whether the schools will reopen in time for those things to occur.
“It honestly kind of sucks,” Dusin said. “I know a lot of my peers are really upset about that. And it’s hard knowing my friends won’t get to experience some of those senior-year things. And it has that added stress of, I spent 12 years working toward being able to do these things my senior year. And I get to senior year, and now I’m at home, and I’m doing my homework at my desk. It’s just an awkward situation.”
Dusin counts herself as lucky: Her varsity golf season was in the fall. She has friends who play spring sports who are losing a good chunk of their season.
“There’s no perfect situation,” she said. “I don’t envy the person making any of these decisions.”
Ben Matthews from IEA said he hopes parents, students, and educators are patient with one another—and cut each other a break.
After all, these are uncharted waters.
“A lot of the pressure that our educators and parents are feeling or are going to feel—a lot of that pressure is going to be self-imposed,” Matthews said. “There’s this idea that, if I’m an educator, I have to try and replicate exactly what would be happening in the classroom when my students are there. That’s just not going to be possible.”
For now, schools are set to reopen Tuesday, March 31. Regularly scheduled spring break is next week.
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