The Examiner U-46 News Feed
District U-46 assumes coronavirus precautions
By Seth Hancock
Classes in School District U-46 are cancelled until at least Tuesday, March 31 when they are currently set to resume as fear continues to be perpetuated over COVID-19, the foreign-born new strain of the coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China.
On Friday, March 13, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took the first of several authoritarian steps in response to the virus by ordering all schools in the state, public and private, to cancel classes through at least March 30.
U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders sent a message to parents, posted online on Friday, and stated the closure “means all school-related activities are cancelled” and “our decision means all schools will be closed next week, followed by our spring break recess.”
Sanders, on Sunday, March 15, clarified in a message that he made the decision to close school writing: “I chose to close schools before Gov. Pritzker’s address to the state.”
The decision to close schools came a day after Sanders stated U-46 “will remain open” on Thursday, March 12 “after reviewing the directions from the Governor and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).”
Sanders has also stated: “There are no known cases of the COVID-19 virus in School District U-46.”
The district is planning to provide taxpayer funded meals to students throughout the closure while providing certain limited access for parents to pick up any medications for their children left at schools prior to the closure. Online, or distance, learning is also being setup.
A statement from Sanders on Monday, March 16, stated: “While schools are closed, School District U-46 will be providing FREE MEALS TO ALL CHILDREN 18 AND UNDER packaged to take home. A breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack will be ready to take and go. No paperwork is required for meals-just visit the pick-up location most convenient for your family.”
That same day, the district allowed parents to go to schools to pickup things left behind by students such as Chromebooks and technology as well as medications, but all medications not picked up have since been transported to the central offices in the Education Services Center.
Sanders also stated on Monday that the district is still “finalizing” the distance learning plans.
“Until the past few days, when U.S. carriers have offered access to free hotspots for 60 days or more, we have not been confident that all students will have access to the same educational opportunities because of that access to internet service,” Sanders wrote. “Even now, it’s not guaranteed. We take equity very seriously and always want to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities. This is a new and evolving situation but we are working to start sharing some Distance Learning opportunities beginning later this week. We have asked our teachers, students and families to please stay tuned.”
Other changes have occurred including at the Board of Education level. A March 16 board meeting was held electronically with six of seven board members calling in, Donna Smith was absent.
Only Sanders and Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, were physically in attendance. Rodriguez read Pritzker’s most recent edict, which came earlier that day, which suspended part of the Open Meetings Act to allow the electronic meeting. The public was allowed to attend the meeting, but a message from Sanders that day stated the district would not have allowed more than 10 people in the room.
Sanders said at the meeting “the best thing is to keep tuned to our website” for ongoing information, including distance learning.
Board member Melissa Owens asked about the ramifications of closures on planned work, such as parking lot paving or facility work, to take place at schools.
“Right now, everything that we do is kind of subject to potential changes as we move along in this current emergency,” Sanders said. He said there are no anticipated issues currently with contracted work.
Sanders also noted that the time off between March 17 through March 30 have been declared an “Act of God” by Pritzker while the March 16 cancellation is an emergency day meaning students will have to make that one day up. Sanders added: “We might need at least one more emergency day.”
A timeline of the virus shows that the first reported case in America was in the state of Washington in January, and later that month the first case was confirmed in Illinois. President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency in late January and later a state of national emergency on March 13.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.
Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation on March 9 and since closing schools, he has ordered all restaurants and bars (private businesses) to shut down operations other than pickup, delivery and drive-thru services. He has also, on March 16, declared power to limit crowd sizes to less than 50 with exceptions for banks, gas stations, hospitals, pharmacies, shelters and stores.
Current data from the Centers for Disease Control show that there have been 3,487 confirmed coronavirus cases in America and 68 deaths, a 1.9 percent death rate which has been declining as more cases are confirmed. Of those deaths, 48 have been in Washington.
The WHO has reported 6,606 deaths worldwide due to COVID-19.
Data from the IDPH show that there have been 105 confirmed cases in Illinois while 1,038 tests have been negative for the virus. No deaths in the state have been reported.
In comparison, the CDC has estimated that between Oct. 1, 2019 and March 7 of this year there have been between 36 million and 51 million cases of influenza, the seasonal flu. It estimated 17 million to 24 million flu medical visits, 370,000 to 670,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 to 55,000 deaths.
The IDPH is not releasing as much flu data as it is on COVID-19, but it has reported 1,323 flu cases that have led to intensive care unit hospitalization. It does not have a total death number for the flu, but it reports eight pediatric deaths so far this flu season.