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Spanish Daily Journal
     July 1, 2020      #45-183 sdj
 

Local superintendents react to state guidance for

Los superintendentes locales reaccionan a la orientación estatal para

After months of uncertainty, school districts are now in the midst of reviewing extensive state guidelines for reopening and finalizing plans for what learning will look like in the fall.

Some local superintendents say their teams began planning for what-ifs long before the 60-page document from the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health was released June 23.

Now, with a clearer idea of what will be required for next school year, they are mulling through guidance for how they can ensure in-person instruction during Phase 4 of the state’s reopening process.

Requirements include that students and teachers must wear PPE including face masks and maintain social distancing; gatherings of 50 or more are prohibited, temperature checks and/or self-certification of being symptom-free is required, and enhanced cleaning efforts are required.

The document also outlines recommended procedures for aspects such as grading, transportation, food service, gym and music classes, etc.

Each school district will have the flexibility to implement the guidance based on its unique student enrollment, staffing and other factors, though ISBE is “strongly encouraging” schools to provide in-person instruction for all students.

Schools and districts are also being advised to prepare for a return to remote instruction in the event of a resurgence of the virus or a second wave of it in the fall.

Momence Superintendent Shannon Anderson said that while administrators wanted to know how to proceed as soon as possible to aid with planning, they also understood the magnitude of the “herculean task” of providing protocols for over 2 million students across the state.

“With [the document] being so substantial and voluminous, it’s going to take us some time to review all of it, which we have started doing,” he said. “Then we are developing our own district plan that coincides with the guidelines and is in the best interest of the safety of our kids and our staff.”

Anderson said that before the guidance was released, the district began ordering PPE, cleaning supplies and temperature-taking equipment in anticipation of Phase 4. He said the district will take its time in reviewing the guidelines before making final decisions on how best to proceed with the school calendar, building sanitation and other factors.

“We want to be thorough,” he said. “Student and staff safety remains in the forefront for us as we move forward.”

He also said school plans will have to remain flexible with the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

“I think that everyone is really trying to do their best with this situation, as far as school districts and school communities are concerned, to prepare for the fall,” Anderson said. “I applaud those efforts, not just of our own school district, but of everybody who is having to take on this task of keeping everybody safe.”

Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School Superintendent Scott Wakeley said that the guidance came as good news because it will allow for in-person learning in August.

“I think it’s critically important for us to have kids in front of teachers in the fall, and I think we need to do whatever is necessary, of course to keep people safe, but to get our kids in front of our teachers,” he said.

School will start Aug. 17 instead of after Labor Day since waiting for in-person instruction to be allowed is no longer an issue, he said.

Wakeley said the face mask requirement will be a challenge since only half the building is air conditioned, but it will be critical especially during passing periods when social distancing is harder.

“The success or failure of any of these plans or guidelines are going to be dependent upon people willing to go along and do what is asked of them,” Wakeley said. “If masks need to be worn in order for us to have school, then we need to do the best we can to have people wear masks, and I know nobody wants to wear them. I don’t want to wear them, but the alternative is that we are at home.”

The district is currently looking into ways to limit the number of students in classrooms to maximize social distancing, including a possible blended learning model where students would be in school most days and alternate remote learning days. A detailed plan will be presented during the July school board meeting, he said.

Students will be expected to take their technology home with them in case the building has to close for cleaning after a confirmed COVID-19 case. In that event, students would engage in remote learning until it is safe to return to school.

“It could be like a snow day in August; one day you’re in and the next day you’re not,” he said.

Wakeley also said patience from the community has been appreciated.

“We are all going to do the best we can, and we all have to work together,” he said.

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