D181 readies for full in-person school year

Ensure in-person learning and adhere to safety measures to limit COVID-19-related interruptions.

Those are primary 2021-22 school-year goals for Community Consolidated School District 181, according to Superintendent Hector Garcia, as schools prepare to welcome back students Monday, Aug. 23, to full-time in-person instruction.

“We know how difficult it is for a student to be in person and then have to be online,” Garcia said at Monday’s board of education meeting. “We’re going to do everything possible to ensure that they’re here with us, in person, throughout the entire year.”

To achieve that objective, which hasn’t been possible since the 2018-19 calendar, the district will adhere to Gov. JB Pritzker’s Aug. 4 statewide mask mandate for preschool through high school students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.

Following federal and local guidelines, students will be distanced at least 3 feet apart in classrooms and at least 6 feet apart in lunchrooms, when their masks will be removed. Elementary students will be able to go home for lunch.

“We’re going to continue many of the practices that we had in place during the spring,” Garcia reported.

The district will use LOOP Medical Center to manage weekly COVID surveillance testing with noninvasive nasal swabbing conducted at home. The optional testing is offered at no cost to the district or families.

“The nice thing about LOOP is we’ll receive the results in less than 12 hours,” reported Rick Engstrom, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

Currently, students who test positive and close contacts will need to quarantine for 10 days after the contact’s last exposure to the positive case if no symptoms develop. Officials are hopeful that the DuPage County Health Department will at some point shift to a seven-day quarantine period guideline that is being followed in other states.

“We’re setting up our entire structure to be ready for that opportunity. We believe that’s going to be an option, we just don’t know when,” Garcia said, noting that universal masking is a prerequisite to that option being available.

Academically, the curriculum will revert to pre-pandemic instructional schedules. Students wishing to learn at home full time need district approval. District and state assessments will be administered in person.

Even with the governor’s executive order requiring masks in schools, some residents voiced their opposition to the district going along with it.

“The masks should be optional,” said Burr Ridge parent Jacqueline Parrillo, claiming that herd immunity has been established. “I’d like to see the (district) make a move to mask-optional so we can all serve our children and our liberties.”

Parent Benjamin Hughes said he believes children are being adversely impacted by the measure.

“We’re losing developmental years in kids that are very important to learn boundaries and to be able to understand (emotional and physical) responses based on their own actions,” Hughes said.

Garcia said navigating the changing pandemic landscape has not been easy.

“This summer has been quite a challenge,” Garcia said. “It seemed like almost every week we were receiving new (COVID-19) guidance.”

Board President Margie Kleber acknowledged the divisions that exist on mask requirements. She reiterated that the steps being taken are to promote that goal of year-round in-person instruction.

“I appreciate the frustration. We’re all trying to do our best to make sure that our children come to school every day,” Kleber said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean