‘Abundance of caution’ led to closing of Catholic schools in diocese March 16-20

Maureen Bentley, principal at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria Heights, discusses an art project with two members of the kindergarten class in this Catholic Post file photo. The Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Peoria has directed its 42 elementary and secondary schools to close March 16-20 because of coronavirus concerns. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Citing an “abundance of caution” after the World Health Organization termed the COVID-19 coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Peoria has directed its 42 elementary and secondary schools to close March 16-20.

The directives were sent to the principals, school pastors and chaplains March 12 after consultation with the Office of the Bishop, and were expected to be shared widely with parents and school communities. (See related letter from Bishop Jenky on the temporary suspension of Mass obligation and other topics here.)

They call for school buildings to be cleaned and disinfected according to Catholic Mutual guidelines while the students are absent. Principals and teachers will report to school, however, to review their e-learning plans on Monday and Tuesday, and have a trial day with students on Wednesday.

Dr. Sharon Weiss

The teachers and principals will use Thursday and Friday to evaluate what happened and make adjustments.

In order to be prepared for the online learning day, students must take their books home on Friday, March 13. More information will be provided by each school.

The directives said these days will be counted as student attendance days and will not need to be made up.

E-learning plans were optional for this academic year but are required for next year, said Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria. These plans were to be on file with the Office of Catholic Schools by March 15.

Weiss said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, started talking about preparedness earlier this month and asked what the schools had in place, should there be a need to suspend in-class instruction.

When colleges started to do just that, he called her and said, “We need to ramp this up.”

“From a superintendent’s view, I think the best thing I can give to school leadership and to our pastors is a plan. They like it to come from us so they can share it with their families,” Weiss said. “So we’re serving as a resource.”

SPORTS, TRAVEL ADDRESSED

At a time when March Madness is at its peak, the March 12 directives also cover school sports.

“Per guidance received today from the IHSA, scheduled athletic and extracurricular events (music, speech, etc.) will be limited to players, coaches, immediate family members, and referees only. Other spectators will not be allowed to attend until further notice,” according to the document.

The directives add that athletic teams may continue to practice as usual, but with coaches and players only. These will be restricted to the gymnasium.

Many schools will be on spring break next week. Families traveling outside the country will not be allowed to return to school until they have completed a 14-day quarantine. Those traveling within the United States are asked to be aware of instructions regarding the coronavirus at their destination and to follow that guidance.

In addition, the Office of Catholic Schools is advising that field trips be reduced to a minimum or canceled, if possible.

“Usually the field trip venues involve places where many people gather,” the directives note. “It may be best to err on the side of caution at this point.”

CONTINUE SAFEGUARDS

Advice given by health care professionals in other situations applies here, too:

  • Students with health concerns or compromised immune systems should stay home;
  • Continue to wash hands frequently;
  • Don’t touch your face or shake hands;, and
  • Send children home when they have a fever.

“This entire health situation with COVID-19 coronavirus has been changing rapidly day to day,” the directives said. “The Office of Catholic Schools, as directed by the Office of the Bishop, will continue to monitor and share information with our school leadership as decisions are made and health updates received.”

In the meantime, Weiss told The Catholic Post the plan is a good one.

“We know what we’re doing now and it will serve us well,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the complete text of the directives issued by the Office of Catholic Schools, look for updates at cdop.org.

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