Parents had mixed reactions when some Unit 5 elementary students returned to full-time, in-person learning earlier this month. Speaking to the school board Wednesday night, district superintendent Kristen Weikle addressed the difficulties of making decisions around COVID-19.
Weikle said that some families want students in-person five days a week regardless of whether proper social distancing can be maintained. Other families want their students in-person five days a week only if proper social distancing is possible. Some families are happy with the hybrid model, she said, while others don’t think it’s safe to be in-person at all.
Weikle said the district based its decision to bring younger students back to the classroom, in part, on the success of neighboring districts that have remained in-person. While Unit 5 is a larger district, she said many of its elementary schools are similar in size and attendance to schools in smaller districts.
The full-time return to Unit 5 elementary classrooms has posed challenges, Weikle said, with the district seeing an increase in the number of students who need to be quarantined after close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
To the question of whether students in grade 6-12 will see a full-time return to classrooms this year, Weikle said the district hasn’t made any decisions yet. The district will “continue to look at the possibilities and challenges that surround our secondary students to in-person learning more than two days a week,” she said.
Testing and vaccines
Weikle said she’s often asked why the district didn’t wait until all staff members were fully vaccinated before bringing children back to the classroom full time. Given the current pace of vaccine distribution in the county, staff wouldn’t be fully vaccinated until “at least the end of April-- if not later,” she said.
In the meantime, Weikle said, the district is working to identify opportunities for any staff member who chooses to be vaccinated.
Voluntary COVID testing is available to all high school students in the district. Providing access to testing for students who are not exhibiting symptoms is considered "surveillance testing" and is an “added safeguard” in preventing the spread of the virus, Weikle said.
But for student-athletes participating in IHSA events, testing will be mandatory. They will be required to submit to one COVID test prior to the start of the sports season.
Weikle said it’s not unusual for student-athletes to be required to meet certain standards in order to participate in sports, citing academic eligibility requirements and concussion protocols as examples.
Depending on the sport, Weikle said student-athletes are at a higher risk for exposure to the virus. But she’s still heard from families that are opposed to mandatory testing.
“This fall, we had a lot of families who said they would do whatever necessary to get students back in school and participating in sports, who are now balking at the testing of athletes. I’ve had parents tell me and other administrators they don’t want their child to test because they’re worried they may be positive and would have to miss part of the season.”
Unit 5 is one of 674 districts in Illinois that recently wrote to the U.S. Department of Education seeking a waiver for spring 2021 academic assessments.
School districts are required to administer assessments tests, including a writing and readiness assessment for grades 3-8, the PSAT for grades 9 and 10, and the SAT for high school juniors.
Weikle said Unit 5 joined other districts in asking for a waiver because of concerns over administering assessments in a global pandemic. The largest concern, Weikle said, is that all remote students would be required to test in-person.
The board voted on Wednesday to approve the following:
-- A waiver to that allows the district to continue an increased fee for driver education not to exceed $450.
-- Bids for two building operations projects at Chiddix Junior High School: A geothermal borefield project (Tri County Irrigation offered the lowest bid, at $614,900); and HVAC renovation (A&R Mechanical offered the lowest bid, at $3,971,845).
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