Parents should have answers by March 22

Administrators said they are focused on finalizing protocols and procedures for the return to full-time in person school in Community Consolidated District 181 next month.

“As you know, we have school going on in full mode, and we’ve been working hard to get ready for April 5,” Superintendent Hector Garcia said at Monday night’s board meeting.

The board voted 4-3 Feb. 8 to return to full in-person instruction and agreed to send out a survey asking parents if they want their children to return. Sixty-two percent of families (1,665 students) who responded said they preferred full-time in person learning.

Starting April 5, the district will add to the safety protocols already in place, such as face coverings, social distancing and increased cleaning, said Rick Engstrom, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

“Surgical masks will be available and we’ve put HEPA air filters in all areas that will have students,” he said.

At lunch, students will sit at individual desks at least 6 feet apart, and no more than 50 students will be seated in the same area, he said. HEPA air filters have been installed in these areas as well.

Elementary students will have a 50-minute lunch period, with 25 minutes to eat and 25 minutes for outdoor recess and indoor activities. Middle school students will have a 32-minute lunch.

Parents will be able to pick up students for lunch.

Details about lunch pickup and other procedures regarding full-time in person school will be sent to parents by March 22, Garcia said. He did note that coordinating lunches for families with kids in multiple grade levels would be impossible and that the middle school lunch period is brief.

“We know it’s going to be challenging, but we want to give that option to parents,” he said.

While administrators said they are doing all they can to maximize social distancing, it will not always be possible to have students 6 feet apart in classrooms.

Board member Margie Kleber said she sees 4 or 5 feet of separation as adequate but does not think 3 feet is sufficient. Nor does she believe it’s fair for students in some classes to sit closer together and students in other classes to be farther apart.

Board member Sheetal Rao agreed that 6 feet is preferable. But anything less than that creates the same problem, she noted.

“When it comes to quarantining, if it’s under 6, whether its 3, 4, 5, they are quarantining,” she said.

Another question parents have is why students are returning to school the Monday after spring break, Rao said. Garcia confirmed her statement that standardized testing is a factor. The testing window for the Illinois Assessment and Readiness test (formerly PARCC) opens April 12.

Garcia said delaying the start date might not have the desired effect.

“When you extend that period of time, that doesn’t mean our parents are going to be coming back at the same time from their vacations,” he said. “It could be extended and then we’d be back to square one.”

Surveillance testing will begin March 19 for elementary school students and March 22 for middle schools. It will provide another layer of mitigation, district leaders said.

Key indicators of virus transmission are trending in the right direction, Garcia said.

“For the first time since week 5, we did not have any cases last week,” he said. “We continue not to have any outbreaks. Our student attendance continues to be strong.”

On Tuesday, the Illinois State Board of Education released revised public health guidance for schools. The new guidelines make allowances for social distancing of 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff. They also allow capacity to be determined by a space’s ability to accommodate social distancing rather than a set number (50) or a percentage (20).

“The new guidance has not changed our plans,” Garcia told The Hinsdalean on Wednesday. “We will continue to ensure 6 feet of social distancing during the lunch period. We’ll also continue our process of maximizing spacing between desks.

“While 6 feet of distance between students is not possible in all situations, this condition will be minimized and no desk configuration will have less than 3 feet between desks,” he added. “More detailed information will be shared from the building level once scheduling is complete.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean