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Homewood and Flossmoor schools close as COVID-19 spread continues

All three school districts in Homewood and Flossmoor will be closed until April 3 in compliance with state mandated school closings in an effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Flossmoor District 161, Homewood District 153 and Homewood-Flossmoor District 233 each made announcements Friday to notify parents and students about plans for the shutdown. 

In an email to parents, D161 Superintendent Dana Smith said parents and students would not be allowed in school buildings during the shutdown while extensive cleaning of facilities is conducted.

But the closure will not be a complete shutdown of learning. D161 will implement its E-Learning Plan, which will provide instruction online until schools reopen, not including spring break from March 23 to 27. Teachers will be available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. during each e-learning day to interact with students online.

“This is a very challenging time for our community and this is a hurdle that we have not previously faced as an organization,” Smith said in the email message. “It is imperative that we all do our part to keep our children and community safe during this time. Kindness, compassion and patience are needed as we support each other through this time of uncertainty.”

D153 will also provide learning oppportunities during the shutdown. Students were sent home Friday with materials they may need for a prolonged absence from school, according to an email to parents. 

School offices will be open on Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, from 8 to 10 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. for parents to pick up student medications, if necessary, or any other left-behind items.

In the announcement from D153, Superintendent Dale Mitchell said the closure was necessary.

“While we know this is an unprecedented decision, these are unprecedented times. We have not been notified of any staff or student being diagnosed with COVID-19, but we think the evidence is increasingly clear that status may not last very long,” he said. 

D233 students will also have e-learning days on March 18 and 19 and for the week of March 30. Students who have informed the school they need technology equipment at home have been provided resources, according to the district’s closure statement from Superintendent Von Mansfield and Homewood-Flossmoor High School Principal Jerry Lee Anderson.

“We want to assure you that we are working diligently to ensure that we have the resources available to support our students and employees through these challenging times,” they said.

The district will implement a lunch distribution plan for qualified students. The details will be provided to their families.

In his announcement about the two-week school closing, Gov. JB Pritzker cited guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the need to take quick action in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus that has been designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“All of these choices have cascading effects for citizens and vulnerable populations when it comes to food access, safety, childcare and social services,” Pritzker said. “We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move with urgency. I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family, your friends and your community. One small step at a time, we will get through this together.”

As of now, day care centers will remain open and will follow strict health and safety guidance.

CDC recommendations for fighting the virus have focused on basic hygiene and social distancing. The virus spreads by contact with the droplets emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

“We have seen evidence from influenza outbreaks that community mitigation strategies, such as school closures, have an effect on decreasing the severity of the outbreak,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “By taking these actions now, we hope to slow and limit widespread transmission of this virus, which is essential to ensuring our health care system is not overwhelmed as the disease progresses through our state. School closures will help slow the progression of the virus and we are asking for everyone’s help in reducing the spread.”

State agencies will work to ensure critical support functions remain available to students across the state – including their access to food, child care and safe environments, according to an IDPH news release.

On Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education was granted a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing meals to students who are not in school. Students receiving free and reduce priced breakfasts and lunches will be able to receive grab-and-go meals each day, with some districts having the ability to deliver and others offering parent pick-up service.

Local colleges, too, are making adjustments to help in the crisis. 

Prairie State College is extending spring break through Sunday, March 22. Non-Credit and Continuing Education courses are suspended for the week of March 16, according to a statement on the school’s website. 

The college will be open on March 16, and all employees (faculty, staff, managers, and administration) should report to work as usual on March 16. 

On March 23, following the extended spring break, the majority of instruction will be online until April 12. Some exceptions will be made for labs, continuing education, and some other courses. Those exceptions will be communicated prior to March 23. 

Governors State is also extending spring break through March 22. 

During the week of March 16, faculty and staff will work on continuing instruction through alternate means. Students will be notified by March 19 about the specifics of the alternative coursework.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has a statewide COVID-19 hotline and website to answer any questions from the public or to report a suspected case: 1-800-889-3931 or visit IDPH.illinois.gov.

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