Challenges of COVID-19 continue in D86

Federals grants help D86 cover pandemic-related expenses as more students are in school

More than $3 million in anticipated grant money will help Hinsdale High School District 86 cover the additional expenses of operating during a pandemic, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said.

“I would tell you these grants have been welcome relief,” she said Monday. “We would have really struggled without them. We would have had to make some very difficult decisions on what we were not going to do.”

The district has received about $267,104 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund allocations and is expecting another $900,000 this fiscal year. The federal government recently approved a third round of grants to help schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, which should mean an additional $2 million in fiscal year 2022.

“We have a lot of gratitude that the federal money has arrived and continues to arrive,” Prentiss said.

Grant funds has covered a variety of expenses, including salaries and benefits for employees working on the Recovery-Revitalization-Restore Committee and contracted hires to disinfect lunch spaces and scan the IDs of students riding the bus for contact training. Even minor expenses add up, with face masks for staff and students costing $62,220 and the bill for hand sanitizer coming in at $30,000. (See sidebar.)

Josh Stephenson, chief financial officer, discussed possible uses for the additional grant money with finance committee members last week. Twenty percent of the funds must be allocated toward addressing learning loss, he said at the April 14 meeting.

One option is to hire an assessment and accountability coordinator for two years at a cost of $317,750 along with two certified student support coordinators for two years at a cost of $450,000. An assessment coordinator would be able to mine testing data to determine where learning deficits exist, Prentiss said at the meeting.

“That is one of the pieces to really have some accurate information on learning loss,” she said.

Stephenson emphasized that all new positions would be temporary.

“Our discussions were very centered around understanding that this money is here for a finite amount of time. When it goes, the positions end up going with it,” he said.

Proposed capital renovations include $500,000 to replace the boiler at Hinsdale Central and $500,000 to be put toward an $870,000 project to fill in the existing pool at Hinsdale Central once construction on the new pool is completed. That 6,500-square-foot space could be used as a lunch area in the fall if all students return in-person and a six-foot distance must be maintained at lunch.

The space also could be used for standardized testing or study halls, Prentiss said. “It would be used bell to bell,” she said.

Back in the building

About 75 percent of Central students have been attending full-time five days a week since spring break, Prentiss.

“I think people realize even more how it important it was to have that sense of school. It has been terrific to have a regular bell schedule. The hallways are back to being hallways during passing periods,” she said.

The district currently has 155 students and staff in quarantine, the highest number since November, Prentiss wrote in an email that went out to district families.

“We had massive groups that had to be quarantined and I didn’t want individuals in the community to think there were dozens and dozens of positivities that were driving the quarantine piece,” she told The Hinsdalean.

According to the latest guidelines, students can be seated three feet apart in class. But close contact is still defined as six feet for quarantining purposes, something Prentiss has asked the Illinois Department of Public Health to change.

“I do not believe they can wait until August,” she said. “I think this ping-pong business (of students coming to school and then being sent home) is perhaps doing more harm than good.”

She also is trying to encourage public health officials to prioritize vaccinations for 16- to 18-year-old high school students and said District 86 is willing to work with Osco to hold another vaccination clinic.

The lack of leadership during the pandemic has been her biggest frustration, she said. IDPH and Illinois State Board of Education officials indicate having students in school is a priority but leave districts scrambling to make that happen.

“You can say that, but then you have to have your actions follow and match your words,” Prentiss said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean