McLean County school districts have a lot of decisions to make now that the state has released its guidelines for reopening. But one thing they agree on: Requiring kids to wear a mask all day every day at school is going to be a challenge.
While the guidelines generally offer districts some latitude in crafting their own reopening plans, masks will be a must when students return in August, with few exceptions.
Some other states will allow students to remove their masks inside where COVID-19 social distancing is possible, said Laura O’Donnell, an administrator at Stanford-based Olympia school district, who will take over as superintendent July 1.
“We were hoping for some flexibility around that piece,” O’Donnell said. “We were expecting students to wear masks in hallways and on buses and in common spaces, but we do have some smaller classrooms with a small number of students who could still spread out, and we were hoping for some leniency in those situations.”
Like many other districts, Downs-based Tri-Valley is surveying parents and other stakeholders about their concerns and comfort levels.
“It is clear that our public has concerns about students wearing masks,” said Tri-Valley Superintendent David Mouser.
Teachers can opt for a face shield instead of a mask, according to the guidelines. They also appear to allow certain children with special needs to use a face shield, too, if they simply can’t tolerate wearing a face covering, said Unit 5 Executive Director of Special Services Michelle Lamboley.
“We’re all gonna have to work together on how to get kids to understand the need,” Lamboley said. “I know there’s probably going to be some parents and families that don’t want to wear anything at all. And we’re going to have to bridge that. And we have not had that discussion yet, about what it looks like if someone refuses.”
Take a breath, survey your community, listen to feedback, collaborate to make the best decision you can for YOUR COMMUNITY! Realize that things might change! Parents..CHOOSE TO support the plan for the fall at home and in public! #welcomeback2020 #togetherTV3 #ilschoolsstepup
— Dr. David M. Mouser (@MowZ13) June 24, 2020
The state’s guidelines, developed by the state Board of Education and Department of Public Health, “strongly encourage” school districts to provide in-person instruction this fall.
But exactly how that looks is still very much TBD. Schools are encouraged to prioritize in-person instruction for kids under age 13. (Lamboley suspects that’s all about child care—a key consideration as displaced workers head back to their job or log in from home.)
District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said he was pleased that the guidelines offer so much flexibility for remote/online, in-person, or blended (a little of both) instruction.
Generally, Bloomington-based District 87 hopes to have at least all kids through 8th grade in school every day, he said, noting social distancing can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
“In some cases, in a classroom, it may mean we’re not able to get 6 feet apart. Maybe it’s only 5 feet. Masks are even more important in those environments,” Reilly said. “Obviously, we’ll clean more. We’ll have to manage lunches differently than we normally would. So all of those logistical things become important. And those things we’ll be working on.”
District 87 will ask parents for feedback in a survey going out June 29, then release more detailed plans. One option, Reilly said, might be to allow certain students to learn from home, even while others are at school—even if they’re in the same class.
“And the good news is that will give parents an option for those who might have a child who has underlying health issues, or some other member of their household does. Something that makes them very concerned about sending their child back to school knowing that we don’t have a real viable treatment or cure for this coronavirus,” Reilly said.
Another unknown is how symptom screenings will work. The guidelines require schools to “conduct temperature and symptom screenings or require self-certification and verification for all staff, students, and visitors entering school buildings.”
O’Donnell, from Olympia, said more than 90% of their parents said they’d be willing to check their child’s temperature and certify the results every morning before school. The others would have to go to the school nurse upon arrival.
District 87 is still figuring this out. Reilly said the district already has purchased a bunch of handheld thermometers.
Mouser, from Tri-Valley, said preliminary survey data is “very clear that our parents overwhelmingly support the return of in-person instruction this fall.”
“I cannot stress enough that school working in the fall will require community and cooperation,” Mouser said. “Parents, students, teachers, and administrators will need to openly communicate and work together to overcome the inherent challenges we will face.”
“That being said," he said, "I have no doubt we will make it work."
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