By Joe Boyle
The Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools released its plan Friday to open school buildings in the fall as they cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We live in extraordinary times and it is our intent to reopen our school buildings safely to all families in the fall," said Dr. Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools. "Such a reopening 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."
Children over the age of 2 will be required to wear face masks while indoors. Students will have their temperatures taken as they arrive at school, according to the archdiocese. Masks may only be removed during designated activities (such as lunch and recess) and only if students remain physically distant, according to the archdiocese.
Last month, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich announced the intention to reopen school buildings for face-to-face classes this fall. Since that announcement, the Office of Catholic Schools has been working with several groups, including the Archdiocesan COVID-19 Task Force, a panel of medical experts, state and local officials, priests, principals and school parents.
Along with the wearing of face coverings, students will be assigned to a "cohort," which will correspond to their homeroom class and they will remain with those same classmates throughout the day. Students within a cohort will remain physically as far apart as possible to prevent the spread of the illness.
Schools will provide new pick-up and drop-off procedures, walking routes within the buildings and other measures to limit the physical interaction of students. Parents will be asked to take their children's temperature daily. Temperature checks will also occur as students enter the school building every day, according to the archdiocese.
The schools will adhere to infection protocols, requiring any student who presents symptoms of COVID-19 and/or tests positive for the virus to quarantine and seek medical attention before returning to class.
This will include local elementary schools that are scheduled to open their doors in the fall. The local schools are Most Holy Redeemer and Queen of Martyrs in Evergreen Park; St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Gerald, St. Linus and St. Germaine in Oak Lawn; and St. Patricia School in Hickory Hills. St. Albert the Great School in Burbank also draws students from local communities.
The list of openings this fall also includes Marist, St. Laurence and Mother McAuley high schools.
The archdiocese also pointed out that if families are not ready for their children to return to classrooms, they will still have the option for online learning.
School officials are adapting to the changes that include separating desks at least six feet from other students.
Cupich first made the announcement during a video message to parents and parishioners on June 8.
"We have every intention of having our students return to their classrooms when the school year begins in the fall," Cupich said. "Have do doubt that we will employ measures that keep the safety of your children the priority."
In the written statement that was released Friday the archdiocese stated that "everything possible is being done to reopen school buildings and provide a faith-filled education in a safe and timely manner."
The archdiocese serves about 70,000 students in 199 schools in Cook and Lake counties. It is the third-largest archdiocese in the U.S.
While plans have been arranged to reopen schools, the COVID-19 pandemic in Illinois remains unpredictable, according to archdiocesan officials. The archdiocese added that school buildings could close again if "a significant rise in cases were to occur."
But Cupich believes the plans that have been set forth is the best opportunity for students.
"We have worked hard to provide a reopening plan that recognizes the great benefits of in-school instruction and still expresses our commitment to the preservation of human life," Cupich said. "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."
For more information on the Archdiocese of Chicago's Catholic Schools, visit schools.archchicago.org.