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What comes next for Decatur schools and state reopening plan

What comes next for Decatur schools and state reopening plan

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Paul Fregeau

DECATUR -- Guidelines have been released by the Illinois State Board of Education for opening schools in the fall.

The recommendations in the 60-page document include:

  • Require the use of personal protective equipment, including face coverings;
  • Prohibit more than 50 people gathering in one space;
  • Require social distancing be observed as much as possible;
  • Require that schools conduct temperature checks and symptom screenings or require that individuals self-certify as symptom-free before entering school buildings; 
  • Require an increase in cleaning and disinfection

The governor also announced today that the state will make 2.5 million masks available for free for students and staff in all K-12 public school districts.

Watch now: Decatur school board approves 10 new positions

The board also said schools should ensure all students can attend school in-person this fall to the greatest extent possible, but that schools should be prepared to return to remote learning in case the virus surges. 

Superintendent Paul Fregeau sent out a letter to Decatur schools and families in which he said the district received the recommendations the same time they were released to the public and it would take some time to study them. 

"Therefore, we kindly ask for your patience as we thoroughly review this detailed guidance and implement the suggestions into our district’s own transition plan," Fregeau said in his letter. "We are keenly aware of the urgent need to communicate to families about what to expect for the upcoming school year and anticipate releasing our own transition plan in the next few weeks. As you may know, our administration formed transition teams, held parent focus group sessions, and has already been discussing options. This guidance will accelerate those conversations, and I’m confident we can put forth a plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our students while maintaining a dynamic learning environment."

“The guidelines ISBE released today provide a road map as we return to in-person instruction, but they don’t address some of the most pressing concerns that make it difficult to social distance appropriately and monitor the health and well-being of all our education support staff, teachers and  students. We are especially concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment and providing a safe learning environment.

Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, said the state's teachers and teaching assistants are ready to work with the state board to update the guidelines and address issues of crowded classrooms and safety of staff and students. 

"It is no secret that remote learning has been a challenge to teachers, parents and students and our membership looks forward to returning to in-person instruction, but anxiety remains high over class sizes and the lack of school nurses and other health and safety resources. We continue to be concerned about the deep disparities that exist in schools, especially in our Black and Brown communities, who still lack access to the internet and computers," she said. "We need to also consider our students who live in rural communities and their ability or lack-there-of to access information online. Parents, students and community members will feel safe returning to in-person instruction only when it is done safely by reducing class size and having a school nurse and necessary supplies in every school building."

During a news conference Tuesday in Chicago, Gov. Pritzker said every school, district and institution must develop its own individual plan based around common public health guidelines that include limiting group meetings to 50 or fewer people, cleaning and disinfecting facilities and conducting regular symptom checks.

He also cautioned that schools could be forced to return to remote learning in the event of a surge in infections and hospitalizations or a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said districts and individual schools will soon send additional information to parents and students.

Pritzker first ordered all public and private schools, including colleges and universities, to close for in-person instruction on March 13 as part of the state’s initial response to the pandemic. That was modified on June 4 when schools were allowed to offer limited in-person instruction and summer school programs as part of Phase 3 of the reopening plan.

Dr. Ngoki Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the reopening being allowed this fall is the result of significant declines in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations since the peak of the pandemic in Illinois. Those declines, she said, are the result of the vast majority of Illinoisans following basic safety guidelines that include frequent hand-washing, wearing face coverings when in public and practicing social distancing.

In advance of schools reopening, Ezike strongly encouraged parents and guardians to make sure their children are up to date on their vaccinations and that all Illinoisans get caught up on basic wellness procedures, including cancer screenings. She noted there have been steep declines in those procedures since the pandemic began.

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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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