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) – It has been a challenging year for Illinois school districts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Districts closed classrooms in March when the pandemic hit, then many began the fall semester with remote learning as the virus lingered. Online teaching to finish the school year in the spring did not go smoothly for many districts, with many being unprepared for the obstacles that lay ahead, such as bandwidth issues and a shortage of teachers.

As a precaution, school districts across the state prepared for remote learning in the fall in order to give parents a choice of either online, in-person, or a combination of both. Then a rise in coronavirus cases forced many districts to go to totally remote learning to begin the semester. Bill Doyle, a parent in Naperville, told the school board that plans to keep classrooms closed was a tough pill to swallow.

“My kids were ecstatic to go back to school this week,” said Doyle. “I cannot tell you the gut punch they felt when my wife broke the news to them after dinner that they are now delayed two more weeks.”

Despite being located in a region of the state that was at the time placed under restrictions from the governor, the Carbondale and Marion school districts, in Region 5, continued to offer in-person learning, as did the Bourbonnais and Kankakee school districts in Region 7.

Dr. Amy Dixon, a principal in the Carmi-White County school district, said parents wanted in-class instruction from the very beginning and it paid off for students.

“At week six of being open, and we are still gathering data but I can tell you we are showing more than average gains,” said Dixon.

Remote learning loss became a big issue as the fall semester dragged on. Robin Stearns, President of the education policy organization Advance Illinois, said it is challenging to figure out whether or not you are reaching a student when you are not in the classroom.

“Just showing up and logging in is very different,” Stearns said. “It is so much more challenging for a teacher to be able to understand whether a kid is really engaging in the material when you are trying to do things like hybrid fashion, remote, etc.”

With a new semester on the horizon in 2021, a majority of Illinois school districts have plans in place to reopen classrooms for some grades, usually the younger students because they experience the most difficulty with remote learning.

Another variable that could affect the rest of the school year is a vaccine, which at this point, has not been approved for anyone under the age of 16.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.