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Reopening schools topic at special U-46 meeting


By Seth Hancock
  “It is a fatal conceit to believe any one person or small group of people has the knowledge necessary to direct an economy or dictate public health behavior. I think government health experts during this pandemic need to show caution in their prognostications. It’s important to realize that if society meekly submits to an expert and that expert is wrong, a great deal of harm may occur when we allow one man’s policy or one group of small men and women to be foisted on an entire nation,” said U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky at a June 30 hearing concerning COVID-19.
  School District U-46 says its reopening plans in the 2020-2021 school year will depend on what government health agencies tell them while it plans to follow guidelines as the Board of Education held a special meeting on Monday, June 29 which was held virtually. The first day of school is Aug. 12.
  Officials said distance learning will continue to some extent depending on what model it chooses, but Superintendent Tony Sanders said the district has few answers currently.
  “At this point, we do not have all of our answers for you this evening rather some of the considerations and conversations that have been occurring,” said Sanders who stated that U-46 will be following the guidance of health agencies from the local, state and federal level as well as from the Illinois State Board of Education. He added: “I’m going to ask that patience be our common theme.”
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said the district is likely going to use a hybrid model with “a combination of face-to-face instruction in schools and online learning.”
  Sanders said this will continue “until we get a vaccination.” No successful vaccine has ever been developed for any strain of the coronavirus.
  The district has released a survey to families asking their preference of models from all distance learning, all in-person learning or the hybrid. It suggests a hybrid could lead to students attending class twice a week and distance learning three days.
  Sanders said the district will prioritize bringing early learners and special education students back first because there are fewer distance learning opportunities for them.
  The state has said school can resume with no more than 50 in one space, social distancing (six feet apart), increased disinfecting, either the district screening and taking temperature checks or allowing individuals to “self-certify” they are symptom free and with required face masks.
  “The state says that everyone within a school must wear a mask, and face shields might be permitted but it’s going to be very, very rare and an exception to the rule,” Sanders said. “So, masks will be the norm in every one of our buildings.”
  John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture, said masks will be required at all times inside with the only time it is not required is outside when able to social distance. What should be noted is that it has been reported that two children have died in China while wearing a face mask during physical education.
  Paul provided evidence at the June 30 senate hearing from the YMCA in America to 22 European nations that have already opened schools which have shown “no discernable increases in cases” including where no face mask requirement was in place.
  “There are examples from all across the United States and the world that show that young children rarely spread the virus,” Paul said and added: “Perhaps our experts might consider the undue fear they are instilling in teachers who are now afraid to go back to work. No one knows the answers to these questions. We shouldn’t presume that a group of experts somehow knows what’s best for everyone.”
  Anthony Fauci, director of the national institute of allergy and infectious diseases, agreed with a lot of Paul’s remarks and said: “I feel very strongly we need to do whatever we can to get the children back to school.”
  Lela Majstorovic, U-46 assistant superintendent, said there will need to be adjustments made where there may be over 50 people in a space like PE, passing periods and lunch.
  “We are working to ensure that our classes are scheduled in a way that maximizes the use of space while maintaining social distancing and the appropriate number of students,” Majstorovic said.
  Jeff King, deputy superintendent of operations, said modifications to cleaning processes and transportation will be made as well as allowing visitors to enter buildings. He said lunch will likely be in classrooms.
  Johnson said “we will be reviewing” extra curriculars like athletics and clubs.
  Heiderscheidt said “we’re taking the stance of having folks self-certify” that they are symptom free including students, staff and parents which he said is “teaching a lifelong learning skill.” He said it would be a “monumental task” to have the district check everyone.
  When questioned by board members, Sanders said most issues will be determined on guidance. Specifically, if those in a space will have to self-quarantine if one person tested positive for the virus, Sanders said: “I would say that’s still up in the air right now.”
  The district also stated the public needs to fear this virus. The survey asks families to describe their level of fear regarding issues like health and wellness to mental wellbeing while asking what guidelines are most important to follow.
  Sanders said this was only the beginning of the pandemic and Heiderscheidt said “this is a critical incident that occurred to all of us, a disaster worse than a hurricane, earthquake or a natural disaster” and the worse event in many people’s lifetimes.
  The district also claims equity and social justice is important to discuss as well, Johnson stating: “This is essential to our staff and our students to respond to current events.”
  Committees have been formed including two board members, John Devereux and Sue Kerr, and recommendations will be brought at the July 20 meeting.
  Kerr said School Resource Officers (SRO) will also be discussed at the July 20 meeting without elaborating on the nature of the discussion. Several districts across the country have removed SROs from their schools in recent weeks.
  “We’ve had a couple of emails” and “a couple of board members have asked questions as well,” Kerr said of SROs.

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