Free, state-provided cloth masks for every student and staff member. Regular symptom checks. No more than 50 to a room at any one time.

Those are among the guidelines for the return of in-person learning at all P-12 schools across Illinois announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker Tuesday afternoon in Chicago.

While acknowledging that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for every school district statewide, state officials said that five guidelines must be followed by both public and non-public schools serving pre-K through 12th grade in Illinois.

“Nothing compares to face-to-face interactions between students and their teachers,” said State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala. “The dedication of Illinoisans to social distancing over the past several months has allowed us to plan to bring students back to classrooms this fall while keeping health and safety our number one priority.

“This fall will not be ‘business as usual’ in more ways than one. Our students will return to us transformed and hungry for knowledge that contextualizes current events. I urge schools to use summer to readjust curricula to honor these historic times and to continue to be diligent in following safety protocols.”

The five mandatory guidelines:

1. Requiring the use of appropriate personal protective equipment, including face coverings.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will provide public K-12 districts in Illinois with 2.5 million cloth face masks, Pritzker said.

2. Prohibiting more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space.

3. Requiring social distancing be observed, as much as possible.

4. Requiring that schools conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or requiring that individuals self-certify that they are free of symptoms before entering school buildings.

5. Requiring an increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

“Classroom learning provides necessary opportunities for our students to learn, socialize and grow,” Pritzker said. “The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated.

“In close consultation with IDPH, infectious disease experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and other public health professionals, the guidance focuses on keeping students, teachers and families healthy and safe. It recognizes that Illinois is a diverse state, and school districts and institutions of higher education across Illinois will face unique challenges in how they’ll operate within their communities.”

In a 60-page report provided by the Illinois State Board of Education and Department of Public Health, return-to-school aspects such as grading, special education and training were addressed.

Locally, school administrators and teachers have received the plan and are in the process of developing plans to implement these new requirements for the coming school year.

Rossville-Alvin Superintendent Dr. Crystal Johnson sent out the following message via social media last week regarding the requirements:

“I hope this message find you and your families safe and well. Today, the Illinois State Board of Education released guidance for schools on the 2020-21 school year. This 60-page document has been much-anticipated and will go a long way toward answering critical questions all of us share about what the 2020-21 school year will look like in terms of in-person learning, scheduling, transportation, wearing masks, social distancing and other measures intended to keep everyone safe and healthy, while also re-engaging students in the learning process. Right now, we don’t have all the answers to those questions as this document was released to school districts at the same time it was released to the public. Therefore, we kindly ask for your patience as our staff thoroughly reviews this detailed guidance and implements the suggestions into our district’s own transition plan. The Rossville-Alvin CUSD #7 is keenly aware of the urgent need to communicate to families about what to expect next school year and anticipate releasing our own transition plan as soon as possible. Our district has formed teams to being discussing options. This guidance will accelerate those conversations, and I’m confident our district can put forth a plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our students while maintaining a dynamic learning environment. Thank you again for your patience, understanding and flexibility as our entire district navigated a situation together that none of use could have imagined. I will be in touch soon. In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy your summer.”

Hoopeston Area High School Principal John Klaber posted the following on the Hoopeston Area School District website regarding the new requirements:

“I hope everyone is having a safe and enjoyable summer! This is just a quick note to let our students and staff know that the Illinois State Board of Education along with the Illinois Health Department have now released their joint transition guidance for starting the 2020-21 school year under Phase 4 of the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan. While the high school office is officially closed during the month of July, district and building staff will be working throughout the remainder of the summer to get things lined up for the start of next school year. As more information becomes available and as plans are finalized we will be sure to get that information out to our students, family, and community as quickly as possible. As always, student safety is our number one priority! Have a great rest of your summer and we can’t wait to see everyone in the fall! #CornjerkerPride.”