The Illinois State Board of Education is preparing schools for the possibility of closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks and high quarantine numbers after some have already closed down due to a high number of students in quarantine.
While school districts in our area say they’re glad they have this guidance now, they’re not planning to use it unless they absolutely have to.
“Our district has focused on in-person instruction because we know that’s the best for the education of the students. We have implemented the appropriate measures so that our staff and students are safe to be at school. The latest guidance didn’t really change anything for us, Mt. Zion Superintendent Travis Roundcount said.
Cerro Gordo Superintendent Brett Robinson stated, “ISBE’s new remote learning guidance that was just released does provide some new and/or clarifying information, but much of it is carryover from remote learning guidance provided last year.”
According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s guidance, school districts that decide to take a pause to in-person learning due to high COVID-19 transmission schools will have to follow remote learning requirements, but they have to consult with their local health department first.
“I appreciate the most recent information that ISBE has released in regards to remote learning and the guidelines they have provided districts. The information doesn’t differ much from what we experienced last year, with the expectation of the additional information related to an adaptive pause,” Arthur Superintendent Shannon Cheek stated. “The term adaptive pause is new and refers to when a school district deems it necessary to halt in-person learning due to an outbreak.”
“ISBE’s guidance is always helpful, but it always leaves some unanswered questions. I think it is tough for anyone to think through all of the potential loopholes or vague guidance to understand what school district leadership needs to hear. COVID has been a moving target from the beginning – like changing a tire while you are driving the car,” Bement Superintendent Sheila Greenwood said.
“We provide learning opportunities when students are quarantined, and we help them catch up or understand the material when they return to school if needed. We also offer after-school tutoring for those who need additional help,” explained Roundcount.
In regards to being ready to use remote learning if needed Robinson stated, “Having a sense of what ISBE’s expectations are for synchronous learning time (2.5 hours of teacher/student interaction in real time) and the total overall time necessary to meet the minimum requirement of a remote school day (5 clock hours of a combination of instruction and schoolwork helps.”
We asked school districts what metric they will be using to decide if they need to take a temporary pause to in-person learning.
“The deciding factors related to that decision will have to be determined in collaboration with the local health department. If it were determined that we needed to take an adaptive pause, we would consult with the local health department in Douglas County and develop protocols that would determine the length of time for the adaptive pause as well as consistent reasoning for the recommendation to halt in-person learning. I think having an option available is encouraging, however we are fighting hard each and every day to avoid any type of widespread shut down that would require us to consider an adaptive pause to in-person learning. If a pause is needed, I’m confident that the staff at Arthur CUSD 305 will be able to handle that adjustment as we already have worked through those scenarios in the past, Cheek stated.
He continued, “There is no one size fits all metric that can be developed to determine if a pause is needed. We continue to monitor cases and communicate with the health department regarding our situation. We want to make sure we are always considering the big picture before making any decision to impact in-person learning. The flexibility, adaptability and student first attitude the staff continues to demonstrate is nothing short of extraordinary based on what has been asked of them. I’ve said it before and will continue to express my gratitude to work with such dedicated and student-centered professionals.”
Greenwood commented, “As far as metrics go, we would work with our local health department in making decisions about remote learning. Knock on wood, we haven’t had one case of COVID spread at school, it is the outside of school activities that are causing the spread and we are working diligently to make sure that we keep it safe here and keep the kids in-person.”
She added, “We do have a state approved e-learning/remote learning plan in case we would need to resort to that. Superintendents are expecting further guidance on the new vaccine mandate and some possible updates on COVID mitigations as the numbers increase in parts of the state. A huge shout-out to our board of education, students, staff and parents/guardians in following the mask mandate which eliminated a lot of issues that other districts are having with COVID outbreaks and threats of losing school district state recognition. There is a lot at stake with decisions being made in these challenging times and rest assured our Bement student and staff safety is first and foremost.”
But in the event that students have to go fully remote for a certain time period, school districts are prepared to move in that direction.
“In my opinion, the various factors to be considered in determining whether a temporary pause to in-person learning is or is not necessary, cannot be predicted in advance. We continually monitor health data within our school district community, which encompasses portions of Piatt, Macon and Moultrie counties, and maintain an open line of communication with our local health departments,” Robinson said. He went on to say, “Our goal is to provide our Cerro Gordo students and staff with in-person learning opportunities every day that we are able to provide an environment that is safe for all. Should the various factors ever dictate we need to take a temporary pause to in-person learning, we will not hesitate to do so, just as happened a couple of times during the 2020-21 school year.”
Roundcount replied, “We would only go remote or take a temporary pause, only when the health department says we had an outbreak with too many connected cases and designated students need to learn from home. However, we hope our positive COVID cases stay low so that student learning can stay at the highest level.”