Illinois students allowed to return to schools — to clean out lockers, official says

Some suburban districts have already set up an appointment-based system for students and their families to pick up their belongings, while Chicago Public Schools is planning to soon release guidance to schools on how it can be done.

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Students put their coats in their lockers at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.

Students put their coats in their lockers at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

With school out the rest of the academic year, traditional locker clean-outs that are an end-of-year goodbye ritual won’t look the same in a socially distant world — but they can still happen, the top Illinois education official said this week.

Some suburban districts have already started inviting families back through an appointment-based system, while Chicago Public Schools is working on a plan to let students pick up their personal belongings left at schools in March when it was still unclear how long buildings would be shut.

State Supt. of Education Carmen Ayala said schools are welcome to start allowing students to come by and pick up their possessions as long as proper social distancing is maintained.

“It has to be very well orchestrated for each school,” Ayala said in a Facebook live interview with State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch.

“We really don’t want the social gatherings and the, ‘Goodbye, it’s the end of the school year,’ for obvious reasons,” she added. “But yes, absolutely, that is allowed. And I do know that schools are beginning to message that and plan and have those things occur.”

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the district is developing soon-to-be-released guidance on how the clean-outs will take place.

Whitney Young Magnet High School, for one, told families last week that students would be assigned a date and time starting this upcoming Monday through May 22 to retrieve their belongings, and social distancing protocols would be followed.

Many other CPS teachers and families were still waiting to hear how their schools will handle the issue.

Meanwhile in west suburban Plainfield, elementary school parents are required to make an appointment to pick up their student’s belongings, while middle school families will receive a bag that also includes a yearbook. High schoolers who aren’t graduating will be able to keep their possessions in their lockers until next school year or pick them up by appointment.

Staff at the three high schools at Maine Township District 207 in the northwest suburbs — Maine East, Maine South and Maine West — have been collecting items from locker rooms and putting them in bags or boxes tagged with each student’s name. Kids are then assigned a date and time to come by the school for pickup and to turn in textbooks, musical instruments, library books and other items.

“The response to COVID-19 has occurred in stages,” said Maine West Principal Eileen McMahon. “The materials pick-up is one of the final stages and it is bittersweet.”

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