Please note: The Beverly Review is providing this article for free due to a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
Officials with the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Catholic Schools announced on July 10 their plans to re-open school buildings this fall with safety measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19.
School employees and students over age 2 will be required to wear masks while indoors, and students will be assigned to a “cohort” in which they remain with the same classmates during the school day.
At Christ the King Elementary School (CK), Principal Ann Marie Riordan said the school community was preparing to open even before the official announcement.
“We don’t have huge classes, so we’re able to spread students out,” Riordan said. “Right now, we’re trying to figure out ways that keep the kids healthy but get them moving—because kids are not meant to sit in a desk all day in the same room in the same space.”
Enrollment at the school, which serves preschool through eighth-grade students, is expected to be at 388 students, Riordan said, a 20-student increase from 2019-20.
CK will also have more space available, as two new kindergarten rooms will be open that are part of a construction project converting the convent into classrooms.
Riordan said CK formed a task committee for re-opening the school, with parents from every grade level represented. She lauded the expertise they provided, with some of them on staff with the Department of Homeland Security or with the mayor’s office.
CK plans to use a schedule that allows students to go outside for breaks, Riordan said, and the school was already preparing to assist children who can’t come to school.
If a student needs to quarantine, she said, the school will live-stream the student into classroom lessons “to hear the conversation” going on and “ask questions in real time.”
That way, the school won’t need parents to become de facto teachers at home—and students won’t feel like they’re missing out.
“It’ll be mush easier for those kids,” Riordan said.
As part of the construction project, the school built a new main office, and Riordan said a glass wall was already installed to separate visitors from the reception area. The school’s maintenance staff is also making plexiglass dividers for classrooms that have tables instead of desks.
The school is also working to set up “isolation rooms” for students who may be ill and are waiting to be picked up.
Riordan plans to maximize the use of all entrances and exits in order to maintain social distancing, and CK will continue to offer programming for after-school care.
The status of sports activities for the fall remains unclear, and Riordan said CK plans to offer remote extracurricular programs—such as cooking classes—“to keep kids engaged and excited.”
Archdiocese of Chicago schools haven’t held in-person classes since March 13. CK will begin the new school year on Aug. 25, and it will be a half-day as it has in the past.
Riordan said that day might be used to allow students to spend time with their teachers from last year to provide a measure of closure. New students would participate in other programs on that day.
The archdiocese is requiring that masks only be removed during designated activities, such as lunch and recess, and only if students remain physically distant.
Other required safety measures include parents taking their children’s temperatures daily, and temperature checks occurring as students enter schools every day.
Online learning will be available for families who are not ready to have children return to classrooms.
The Archdiocese of Chicago serves over 70,000 students, officials said, and an archdiocesan COVID-19 Task Force that developed the re-opening plan included medical experts, state and local officials, priests, principals and parents.
“We live in extraordinary times, and it is our intent to re-open our school buildings safely to all families this fall,” said Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg in a news release. “Such a re-opening has required careful and diligent planning on the part of our school employees, along with consultation from medical professionals, state and local officials, educators, parents, and others. We believe that in-person instruction is the best way to benefit our students and are committed to providing that instruction in a safe manner.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, announced the archdiocese’s intent to return to face-to-face classes in June. He also expressed confidence in the plans for this fall.
“We have worked hard to provide a re-opening plan that recognizes the great benefits of in-school instruction and still expresses our commitment to the preservation of human life,” Cupich said in the news release. “Even in the best of times, our schools help ensure children have good nutrition and a safe place to learn. It is even more important that families have access to these benefits during the pandemic.”