School districts have surveyed families to get a better idea of how to plan for the upcoming school year, knowing the pandemic could easily change those plans.
Online instruction is not popular among parents, but in some places, wearing a mask isn't popular either.
Ryan Brown has served on Unit 5's Citizens Advisory Council and has two children at Kingsley Junior High in Normal. To him, masks are a must at least when students can't be socially distant.
“You could separate kids in classrooms, you can separate them on buses, but in hallways and lunchrooms and those kind of (places), that’s going to be so much more difficult,” Brown said.
The state is requiring everyone to wear a mask in school if they plan to hold in-person instruction, but surveys show not all parents are on board. In LeRoy, more than a quarter of parents (27%) don't want their kids wearing a mask at school. Another 45% say masks are ok, but only part of the time.
“You have people who simply believe that for kids, wearing a mask is (not) that relevant to their health and well-being,” said LeRoy Superintendent Gary Tipsord. “I think that seems reasonable, probably.”
Tipsord acknowledged children also can carry COVID-19 and infect others. He said the district will go along with the mandate, unless a lawsuit challenging its legality is upheld. In that case, the LeRoy school district would "encourage the use” of face coverings and allow teachers who are immuno-compromised to require them.
With sports and other extracurricular activities still a possibility for the fall, Tipsord said it's a contradiction for the state to require masks at school and allow other activities that increase their risk of contracting the virus.
“If (the Illinois State Board of Education) is going to release guidance and (the Illinois Department of Public Health) is going to release guidance inside of our buildings that is more restrictive than what it’s going to be on, say the football field or the volleyball court and then I’m going to integrate those same kids in the same hallways and into the same homes, how do those things work together?”
After Tipsord spoke with WGLT, the Illinois High School Association, which had been working toward a plan for athletics to return in the fall, announced it would follow state public health guidelines.
LeRoy plans to offer a virtual option for students who don't feel comfortable back in the classroom.
At Tri-Valley schools in Downs, superintendent David Mouser said masks will not be an issue.
“If our commitment is to try to be back in-person and we know that’s the requirement, that’s exactly what we are going to do,” Mouser said. “That will be the expectation, that will be the requirement and we will be enforcing that as well.”
Nearly 96% of parents in the Tri-Valley district said they will send their students back to school, though some said only if basic health protocols are met, including social distancing.
“I was obviously really encouraged by that. I think that having a community respond that less than 5% are concerned about sending their kids back in person is positive,” Mouser said. “I think it speaks to the trust that they have in the school system.”
For families that insist on a virtual option, Mouser said the district is exploring that, but a hybrid format-- teaching in-person and online simultaneously--isn't as practical as many suggest.
“I think it is unrealistic and I also think it is unfair to expect our staff to prepare for in-person learning on a daily basis with students that are coming here and compliant to the rules that the state of Illinois has provided us,” Mouser said.
He said the district has additional time to prepare this year because the $15 million renovation to Tri-Valley High School has pushed the start of the school year to after Labor Day.
Stanford-based Olympia schools already have their fall plan in place. It includes shorter class days to accommodate socially-distant busing.
Superintendent Laura O'Donnell said surveys show masks remain polarizing. Nearly 80% were opposed to wearing a mask all day, but about half of them are agreeable to wearing a mask in crowded areas like hallways and buses.
O'Donnell said the district met with a group of parents to outline options and "no masks" wasn’t one of them.
“One of our parents said at the end of the meeting, ‘If my child has to wear a mask, that’s a small price to pay to get them back into the building so they can receive traditional instruction,'” O’Donnell said.
Olympia schools also plan to limit COVID-19 exposure by taking students outside as much as possible. The district will have tents at each school to create outdoor classrooms.
“We will be encouraging teachers to do as much outdoor learning as they possibly can, given that one of the times students can remove their mask is when they are outside and they are socially distant,” O’Donnell said. “So we are trying to be creative and work within the guidelines.”
In District 87 schools in Bloomington, nearly a third of parents (31%) said they weren't sure they'd be willing to send their kids back into the classroom.
School board president Bridgette Beasley said if not all kids are back in the classroom at the start, that's ok.
“I think it’s actually a good thing that 100% of everybody won’t be doing anything, but will slowly tradition back in t the buildings with 60% capacity, as an example,” Beasley said.
District 87 announced it also will offer students a full-time online option.
Unit 5 hasn't released its survey results and will roll out its fall plans later this week.
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