As the current school year ends in districts across our state, school staff, from teachers and principals to bus drivers and school nurses, have shown to be true heroes for our students and families in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These truly essential employees have delivered our communities meals, provided health alerts and information, supported our children with a quick transition to remote learning, and served as vital lifelines for countless students and families. We are extremely grateful to them and applaud their strength and commitment.

Now, as we begin to prepare for a return to school, it is clear our students and teachers will need support as schools re-engage. This crisis has taken an emotional and academic toll on every student in the state.

Whether young people have lost a loved one, struggled through economic loss and hardship, worried about how to keep up with college tuition, or simply wrestled with isolation and anxiety, no young person in the state has been unscathed by the upheaval and dislocation of this pandemic.

As parents, we have seen firsthand that remote learning is not a substitute for in-person instruction and schooling. We see that many of our children are not covering all their lessons and material, are less engaged and have far less opportunity for peer to peer growth and development.

We know that our schools had limited time and resources to plan for remote learning, and that we as parents had little time to prepare for what would be needed at home too.

But we cannot let our children suffer — either next year or in the long term as a result.

Just as Gov. JB Pritzker identified the need for a statewide and regional approach for opening up the state, we need a statewide approach for reopening schools that recognizes local conditions but ensures equity, rigor, and recovery for all of our children and schools.

While every student has been affected, we know that the impact of this crisis has been felt unevenly across race, income, citizenship status, and need. It is our job as adults to ensure that our educational recovery focuses resources on communities and student who will need them most.

We need our state leadership to ensure that Illinois has a comprehensive learning recovery plan. This plan should include elements that ensure our school communities have the social-emotional and mental health supports for students and educators; educator planning time, support, and training to navigate unprecedented emotional and academic impact; infrastructure, training, and other supports to close the digital divide; targeted supports for students most impacted by COVID-19; and additional school time to address learning and social-emotional needs.

Every student’s future is at stake right now. History and research show that if we do not support students emotionally and if we do not help them make up missed academics, their educational and employment outcomes will be forever changed. These losses will follow them into adulthood where a vast majority of them will live and work in Illinois.

Providing our children a quality education is as critical for us as it is for them.

Leaders from across our state must work urgently to craft and implement a plan that will ensure our students’ futures are not shortchanged.

Working together, we can make every child’s full potential their reality.

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