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Coronavirus school closings: Moving toward e-learning


JO DAVIESS COUNTY–It’s been a tidal wave of cancellations and postponements over the last week as public health officials, law enforcement and school officials have jumped into action to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

The writing was on the wall on Wednesday, March 11 when the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade was cancelled, setting off a chain of alterations to the Galena School District schedule. The high school band marches each year in the parade and this year, following the performance, two bus loads of band and choir students and chaperones were heading to New York City. The school, aware of the worsening situation in New York, called off the trip and is working to reschedule, perhaps for the end of May.

Galena school officials also went to work immediately on an electronic-learning plan for students, aware that an extended school closure was imminent. The plan would allow online instruction.

What was meant to be a contingency plan is quickly becoming reality.

That action plan turned out to be prudent, as late Friday afternoon, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered schools across the state to close through March 30. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers followed suit. Many local schools were on an already-scheduled spring break this week, giving districts a chance for custodial staff to conduct a deep cleaning of the buildings. No extra-curricular activities are allowed.

Galena co-interim superintendent Steve Bianchetta said Thursday that the board will act on the e-learning plan, which will be submitted to the Regional Office of Education and then the Illinois State Board of Education for approval. Both are fast-tracking such plans, Bianchetta noted.

“An e-learning situation is not nearly as good as having kids in class,” Bianchetta emphasized, noting the plan will be easier for middle and high school students who have access to their school-issued laptops.

The Galena School District is also planning to offer cold lunches to students.

The Galena St. Patrick’s Day parade was cancelled on Saturday, but that morning’s Shamrock Shimmy took place as planned. Church services were cancelled over the weekend or moved to online delivery. The Galena Public Library announced that it will close through March 30.

By Sunday afternoon, Pritzker instituted more closings, announcing that bars and restaurants will close to dine-in service after Monday, March 16. Drive-through and drive-up service is still allowed. Several local restaurants swung into action, offering meal options for pickup and delivery.


Scales Mound School District

Dr. Bill Caron, superintendent, said that the district is following the guidelines of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) which indicated that these are act of god days.

Caron said that the district had a voluntary planning meeting yesterday where they provided the staff with opportunities they can use throughout the closure.

Elementary students will receive blizzard bags containing materials with math and language arts content.

High school and junior high students will continue working on their classwork through e-learning.

The cafeteria staff will be offering free breakfast and lunch for all students during the school closure. Parents who would like to take advantage of this service must email the cafeteria at lunch@scalesmound.net or by calling the school and leaving a detailed message each day by 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Lunches may be picked up at the lower high school entrance between 11:30 and 1 p.m. The package will include the lunch for that day and the breakfast for the following day.

The district will also be sanitizing the building beginning on Tuesday, March 17. They will also be utilizing a disinfecting fogger and will fog the entire building, buses and the playground on Friday.

Scales Mound will have at least one administrator on site during our regular school day hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., in case of an emergency and parents are unable to be home with your child. The district will exercise social distancing practices to the best of our ability to keep students safe.

East Dubuque School District

East Dubuque school district is sending home electronic devices for students that don’t have them. Superintendent TJ Potts said that teachers have their plans together and that technology coach Trevor LaPage and instructional coach Nikki Eisbach have been working for a few weeks on designing ways for the district to have effective online learning for students.

The students will have to check in every day for attendance and the check-in must be by 10 a.m.

Younger students are being sent home with packets of work, but they have also been sent a two-week log for students to complete to show that they have been working on the assignments.

“We are telling staff that this is a trial period for us on the e-learning,” said Potts. “If the closures were to extend, then we would need something more permanent in place. This is a new definition of March Madness.”


St. Mary’s-East Dubuque

The Diocese of Rockford announced on Friday, March 13 that classes in Diocesan elementary and high schools will suspend classes beginning Monday, March 16 until further notice. The schools will implement e-learning at that time.


River Ridge School District

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Superintendent Brad Albrecht said that the school will be sending home work with students. Some of the work will be paper and others will be online learning.

Albrecht said that they will have meals for students that request them starting on Thursday and will be delivered to Hanover and Elizabeth for those that request them.

River Ridge will also sanitize the schools while they are closed.


Stockton School District

Colleen Fox, superintendent, said that custodial staff is very aware of all cleaning and are making sure that it is all thorough.

Stockton will have free lunch and breakfast available to students from 11 a.m. until noon. Meals may be picked up at the main entrance of the high school.

Students will also take part in a remote learning plan which will be a blend of materials utilizing both technology, hard copies and activities to be completed at home. Teachers will be available for questions during the day and will communicate with students as to the specific hours they will be available to support students.


Warren School District

Warren High School will be offering free lunch and breakfast will be available to all students. The district will be providing sack lunches and breakfasts for the following day, which can be picked up in the cafeteria during school days from 11 a.m. until noon for all students under 18. They would like individuals to enter through the southeast door closest to the main parking lot, enter through the cafeteria, pick up a sack lunch for the day and breakfast for the student and exit through the other the end of the cafeteria to continue with social distancing policies.

The students had a full session of school on Monday, March 16 and staff attended on Tuesday, March 17 to finalize necessary items for the e-learning activities.

“This is new, uncharted territory for them as well,” said superintendent Shawn Teske. “Our main goal is to continue the education of our students to the best of our ability and lessen the burden on all involved as much as possible.”

E-learning will begin on Wednesday, March 18. Teske said that they are preparing staff for the fluid situation and that they have told staff to not assume that they will be back on March 31 and to prepare for a potential extended period of e-learning.


Southwestern School District

Southwestern School District implemented a pandemic plan that will include a steering committee that will be tasked with organizing communications, if needed in the district.

Ron Beaver, director of maintenance, told the school board at their meeting on Wednesday, March 11 that the custodial staff is spraying everything with disinfectants twice a week in the elementary and once a week in the high school, as they had been doing while trying to battle influenza.

Superintendent John Costello sent a letter to parents online saying that the district will modify its Easter Break to accommodate the dates missed and that the district will attend school April 6-10 with early release on April 10 and students in attendance on April 13.

Southwestern did not attend this week due to a previously planned spring break that was ongoing when Gov. Tony Evers made the announcement. The school was supposed to return on March 18.

Costello said that he will be working with the kitchen staff to provide lunches for any students in need during the school closure and that more information will be released.


Benton School District

Superintendent Todd Bastian and the Benton School Board held an emergency meeting on Sunday, March 15 at 6 a.m. to discuss their plans for the closure.

The board decided after some discussion to have the students attend on Monday, March 16 and to have teachers attend Tuesday with the potential of attending again on Wednesday.

Bastian said that staff will be trained on e-learning Monday evening following school dismissal and again on Tuesday.

The board voted to have e-learning begin on Monday, March 23 with every Wednesday being an “off day” for staff to catch up.

The district will also be calling families on Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17 to ask about the need for lunches for students.

Also, discussed was having Bastian purchase internet hot spots if they are needed for students with limited internet access.

The board made the motion to allow Bastian and administration to make necessary decisions during the closure.