By CHRISTY JANKOWSKI
No one quite knows for certain what going back to school in the fall will look like. There is hope that students will be able to return normally, but after schools cancelled in person sessions quickly on March 16th, districts are preparing for multiple methods of returning. The ISBE has continually posted guidelines on their website. On June 11 the State Superintendent, Dr. Carmen Ayala posted a letter for districts and faculty.
The State offered additional funding starting on May 18 titled 2020 Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Grant, under the CARES Act. (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security).
The letter states that these grants are “are designed to provide funding to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We strongly encourage every district to explore using these dollars to strengthen your infrastructure for remote learning, whether that means purchasing hardware, software, connectivity, or providing professional development and planning on how to best use those assets.”
The State says in the letter they have received 332 applications and $864,850 has been distributed to districts across the State of Illinois. The letter from ISBE states the funds have been used for multiple things. “Districts are using the funds to purchase a variety of tools and resources, including technology devices; WiFi hotspots; digital applications to assist in communicating with families; workshops and training for staff on blended and remote learning; and health and safety equipment, such as sanitizers, digital thermometers, and cleaning supplies.
Districts are also using the funds to hire mental health support staff to provide services for students, families, and educators.”
Superintendent Greenwood is hopeful, but cautious. She stated Wednesday evening during Bement’s board meeting through Google Hangouts, “As far as fall goes we really don’t know much more than last time we met. We’re still supposed to receive word in the middle of July, as to what the plans are. I don’t think there’s any reason to try to jump the gun too much on on that.” The district is developing multiple plans. They are looking into an A, B, and C plan. Greenwood is hopeful they can come back in a some sort of regular session, but entirely remote learning plans and a hybrid of remote and in person are coming together. “Well I think right now of course, that’s the caveat is we just don’t know but right now I think what we’re looking at is, as being our choice. At this point for a hybrid would be to buy the kids by according to households, so that the kids that are all in the same household would be going to school on the same days doing two days a week in person. For one group two days a week in person for the other roughly half, and then having one day of teacher planning remote learning that kind of thing so that way it’ll be a lot more consistent for the parents and guardians as far as childcare goes…” If they have to go with a hybrid plan, Greenwood states Wednesday would more than likely be the day of no in person attendance and the district would use that day to deep clean the building.
The district received $46,161 from the CARES Act. The district plans to use the money for some teacher stipends, professional development, sanitation equipment, and things of that nature. “We were flying by the seat of our pants at first just because it was such a quick turnaround.
And there are just some things that throughout the process we realized that we could probably do a little bit better.” Adding, “And so we have money for the stipends for the teachers. We have money for plexiglass shields. For the offices, we have money for an electrostatic sprayer, which will help clean backpack. We have Chromebooks hotspots money. We have phone tripods, we have cameras for live broadcasting, charging carts, and face shields…”
Board Member Janice Forgeson replied, “Excellent, excellent. Very good Sheila.”
Driver’s Education was another class put on hold due to Covid-19. Principal Doug Kepley spoke about the return for students. “We have received some guidance on a few things just recently. One thing in particular, finally at the end of last week we received some guidance about driver’s education and the behind the wheel portion of driving so we again we got the guidelines, we have put some things in place, and Mr. Rogers is going to do some driving behind the wheel starting June 22.”
With the fall school possibilities unknown, there is also the problem of some students not completing their classes during the 4th quarter. During this time grades were given as an incomplete or complete, and the actual grade itself was determined by averaging grades. Bement has 16 high school students and 8 Middle School students that will attend Saturday schooling to obtain a passing grade. “We’ll practice social distancing and will follow all the requirements. We will, we will have them complete the work that they need to in order to get those incompletes to a pass.” Principal Doug Kepley added, “to do no harm we’re going to give them that opportunity to complete that work. And that’s what we have established, like I say for the first two Saturdays, we’re going to call them Saturday schools in order to get that work completed and get them to a to a passing grade. And then of course we’ll reconfigure the grade at that point and we will post to the transcript.”
Another class that changed completely was the Sangamon Valley CEO program. The program still continued, but it went to remote. Kepley says, “ It was a very positive experience for them. Even though of course this year ended not well for them, and they had to finish everything through remote learning, it was still just a really neat program.” They will have the program again this year with 11 students from the area. There will be 5 from Monticello, 2 from Cerro Gordo, 2 from Bement, and 2 students from Argenta-Oreana. “So again, we’re really excited about having this opportunity. Get it again. I think that the neatest thing that we saw with the two girls that we had in at this last year, is just the overall growth in everything. They did their presentation, their confidence, their ability to work and just they just excelled with it. They loved it.”
On the Dan Brue front, Greenwood stated Bement will be receiving a settlement. As many know Brue is facing Federal charges for embezzlement during his time as the Superintendent at Meridian Schools. Brue served as Superintendent for Bement Schools as well. Greenwood said of the settlement, “So it will more than cover the attorneys fees, and that will just give us a little bit of money and I think if nothing else, to me it’s kind of the principal thing of just, and none of this settlement will impact, any type of federal charges or anything like that, all the charges will still go forward. So there’s no advantage to doing this as far as for him with the, with the potential charges that are going to be filed.” The district has spent between $4,000-$5,000 in legal fees stated Greenwood.
Greenwood brought up that each district is still paying for their School Resource Officer even though the officer has been reassigned for county duty since schools went to remote learning. “I also think it would have been a prime time for her to take some SRO training, or have some time to work on that type of stuff. Instead of working for the county full time, that doesn’t seem very fair to me.”
Lots of thanks for the way the district handled graduation were handed out as well. “I just want to thank all of you for your help with our high school graduation. Kyle, for everything you did to help with the parade route…the weather was beautiful. And, I just think for a crazy year, it was a really neat thing that we could do for the kids.”
Board Member Janice Forgeson stated, “It was much appreciated and I’ll tell you, Brayden said afterwards. He said, Mom, that was a lot of fun and I said well I will pass the word, because I thought it went very, very, well.”
“I just as I drove home after and I just thought, okay, we sent off those Seniors the best that we could and it was just, it was just a good evening.”