Catholic schools of diocese switching to remote learning only for next 2 months

Students carry crates of books and supplies as they leave Trinity Catholic Academy in LaSalle at the end of the school day on Nov. 13. Schools of the diocese are switching to remote only learning for the next two months as COVID-19 cases continue to escalate across the state. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

(UPDATED NOV. 17)

With confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the rise throughout Illinois, the 42 elementary and secondary schools of the Diocese of Peoria returned to remote learning on Nov. 16. In-person instruction is expected to resume on Jan. 19, 2021, according to a letter sent by email on Nov. 13 to school pastors, chaplains and principals by Dr. Sharon Weiss.

The superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, Weiss said the decision came after “a review of data and information regarding the escalation of positivity and exposure rates for COVID-19 in Illinois during the next few weeks.” It was approved by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, who directed her to share the information.

Father Tom Otto, parochial vicar of St. Hyacinth and St. Patrick parishes in LaSalle, says goodbye-for-now to Trinity Catholic Academy students as they leave at the end of the school day on Nov. 13. Students in Catholic schools around the diocese won’t return for in-person classes until Jan. 19, 2021. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

On Nov. 16, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 11,632 new cases of COVID-19 in the state. As The Catholic Post was going to press, there was a total of 585,248 cases and 10,779 deaths in the 102 counties of Illinois since the pandemic began this spring.

The communication from the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Peoria noted that while the school buildings are closed, principals should make arrangements “to thoroughly disinfect and sanitize all areas within the schools.”

Principals and teachers may be in their offices and classrooms to facilitate remote learning during this time, but must observe all public health mandates to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That includes wearing masks, washing hands frequently, checking their temperatures throughout the day, and maintaining social distancing of more than 6 feet while interacting with other teachers.

No students will be allowed to enter the school buildings.

Principals were asked to publish guidelines for the distribution of school laptops and assignments that must be picked up from and returned to the school.

NO EXTRACURRICULAR EVENTS

In addition, there are to be no sporting or extracurricular events scheduled at the school during the system-wide shutdown.

“These activities may resume on Jan. 19 . . . following IESA (Illinois Elementary School Association) and IHSA (Illinois High School Association) guidelines as approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health via the Office of the Governor,” the letter said.

It ended by noting that the bishops and Office of Catholic Schools understand the “many challenges” this guidance will present for school pastors, chaplains, principals, teachers, staffs, students and families.

“However, the safety and health of our school personnel and students is first and foremost what ultimately factors into this most difficult of decisions,” the letter said.

In the days that followed, diocesan schools started posting notes of thanks on Facebook to everyone who had made the first quarter of in-person instruction the success that it was. Holy Cross School in Champaign noted that no students or staff had tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

Msgr. Richard Soseman of Peru Catholic School said he would be leading prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance each morning on the school’s Facebook page, adding, “Thank you for your patience during this developing situation.”

The Diocese of Peoria’s 42 elementary schools, middle schools and high schools enroll 9,107 students across 26 counties.

When the school year began, families were offered the option of in-person instruction or remote learning, with both being for five days a week. A recent parent survey indicated that about 9 percent of families chose remote learning for their students.

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