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New education bill addresses some changes caused by pandemic

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

(The Center Square) – When Illinois schools were forced to shut down in March to reduce the spread of COVID-19, teachers switched to remote instruction where possible.

Some teachers juggled their teaching commitments with taking care of their children, many of whom also were at home, said state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield.

Bertino-Tarrant, a former principal and superintendent, was a sponsor of a package of regulations that addressed some of the COVID-19 shutdown complications that Illinois teachers faced this spring.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation in June.

The law gives Illinois teachers an additional year to take continuing education classes that they need to renew their licenses. Bertino-Tarrant said that providing teachers the extra time for license renewal was one way to give them a little help.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1569, also addressed letter grades during the public health emergency. Grading policy is up to the school districts, Bertino-Tarrant said. However, the legislation authorizes districts to use “satisfactory,” “pass” and “credit” instead of letter grades if the districts opt to use that method.

Bertino-Tarrant said that some Illinois elementary schools have found that “satisfactory” and “below satisfactory” work better for young students than traditional letter grades that can pin labels on students and make them feel inadequate. Her legislation stipulated that courses, where students receive designations instead of letter grades, will fulfill requirements that students need to register for advanced classes.

The legislation also provides schools the authorization to use remote learning during public health emergencies, like COVID-19. The new law also allows students to take mandatory tests remotely. The critical issue was providing districts with the flexibility to use remote learning as they face the changing conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bertino-Tarrant said.

Remote classes were becoming more prevalent in Illinois – even before the COVID-19 shutdown – Bertino-Tarrant said. High school students, in particular, can benefit from more flexible schedules and some remote learning, she said.

Bertino-Tarrant said she is a firm believer in face-to-face instruction. Typing a question online and getting feedback from a teacher remotely is helpful, she said, but it doesn’t replace in-classroom instruction, in her opinion.

“That rapport, that encouragement that teachers can give in person is second-to-none,” Bertino-Tarrant said.

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