FILE - remote learning, Illinois, Virus Outbreak Illinois

Olivia Marton, an 11th grader at Lincoln Park High School, studies school work with her computer at her home in Chicago, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – A researcher from the University of Illinois Springfield said data shows schools are safe and should be reopened.

Nearly 1.2 million of the state’s 1.9 million students were fully remote as of Dec. 18, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

In Chicago on Monday, the public schools were opened for in-person education, but there were issues with teachers union members worried about their health. Other districts across the state are eying reopening dates with boards considering votes to bring students back for some form of in-person learning.

UIS professor Gary Reinbold said data he reviewed from nearly a dozen different studies indicates in-person education is safe.

“When I say in-school that doesn’t necessarily mean back to going to school all the time because most of the data is coming from places that are doing some form of hybrid schooling,” Reinbold told WMAY. “But having them in school at least part of the time doesn’t seem to be leading to new cases.”

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said it’s up to local school boards to make the decision, but they have to weigh the costs.

“There’s no question that statistics and the data show that there’s a better outcome when kids are in school,” Rezin said.

There are real consequences to the months of fully remote learning, she said.

“Something that we’ve been working on in the Education Committee and what we’re concerned about is this huge learning gap that we will be seeing in the next several years because of kids learning from home, and because of the e-learning and the challenges that are associated with that,” Rezin said.

Reinbold said data he’s reviewed is clear, this far into the pandemic schools should reopen for in-person instruction, even if a blended model.

“It’s a low-risk activity,” Reinbold said. “It’s certainly not a no-risk activity, but when you start thinking about benefits and costs, the benefits are just so high in having children in school and if the risk seems to be quite low it doesn’t seem to be a difficult decision anymore.”

Among other things, the Illinois Education Association is pushing for rapid COVID-19 testing in schools, vaccination prioritization and more financial resources.

“Still we have members and students who are working and learning under dangerous conditions due, if nothing else, to the community spread in their counties,” IEA said in a position statement.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.