In June the Illinois State Board of Education release guidelines for returning to school in the fall.
Under those guidelines administrators say things will be different when the students return because of COVID-19.
The Illinois State Board of education released over 60 pages of guidelines and recommendations to help school districts prepare to welcome student back for the first time since March.
It covers everything from communication, attendance, food service, employees, instruction and more.
Carbondale Elementary School Superintendent Daniel Booth says it’s going to be a process to formulate a plan.
“We pulled together a team of administrators, of teachers and support staff and we basically looked at each section of that guidance and we separated out into seven teams that can focus on specific areas.”
In West Frankfort Superintendent Matt Donkin says there are a lot of factors to consider and it’s going to take some to develop a plan to keep everyone safe.
“Our approach is 1, review all that to at least figure out the boundaries of what the recommendations and mandates are and then work through the issues we have locally and those are, there are many of those.”
Booth says it’s not just one plan they’re working on.
“They encouraged schools to come up with three plans, how in-person instruction would look with COVID-19 and then how total remote learning will look with COVID-19, and then lastly how a blended model will look.”
The blended model incorporates in-person and remote learning.
Booth says the students in his district will get some extra help if remote learning is utilized.
“Our school board approved us purchasing a laptop for every student to work if we’re in a remote environment.”
Donkin says he wants to make sure his students get the most out of remote learning.
“We’re also going to as part of that evaluate what we did last spring, knowing we need to do a little more robust job on the remote learning which again is still not the best way to do things, we’ve talked about that for years, the best instruction happens with teachers and students together in person.”
Under the guidelines from the state there are three things that are mandatory.
Everyone coming into a building must have their temperature checked or self-certify they are symptom free.
Increase cleaning and disinfection procedures school wide and…
“One thing that the guidelines said very clearly were that there’s no flexibility on whether or not if mask will be worn, so we know that we are required to have everyone in those buildings to have on a mask.”
Donkin says even though face mask might make things difficult, they’re going to be important especially coming off the end of summer.
“We know having face coverings is going to be a challenge for all of our students like it has been for adults, but we’re also bringing kids in from family’s all over the community who have been here, there and yonder, including coming from vacation spots in states where numbers are going up, so we do have that concern.”
Under phase 4 of restore Illinois gatherings of 50 or fewer people are allowed, but schools typically have larger groups for different activities, which is something else Superintendent Booth and his team are working on.
“You may have a meeting every single week with the whole school, you won’t be able to do that with over 50 people this year, that also impacts our cafeteria‘s, it impacts our P.E. classes if you got more than 50 kids in a gym, so those things are areas we’ve got to look at.
One big concern is lunch time and how to safely feed the students.
“We may have kids eat in their classroom, you know we may take the lunch to their room on trays or in sacks and hopefully we can have the room already socially distance, so it may be a situation where we just limiting movement within the building.”
When the students come back in the fall after six months without in-person teaching, school districts are making sure lessons didn’t get left behind.
“We have a basic idea of what standards we want to cover in each grade, so for faculty its going back to see what did we cover, what did we miss and then where do we need to start the next grade level.”
Superintendent Booth says it won’t take long for teachers to figure out what’s best for their students.
“It’s not a new phenomenon where educators have to close gaps students have, we may have more gaps and more students with them right now, but this is something that teacher have been doing for years and years and years is finding out where their students are at and meeting them where they’re at.”
Donkin says the teachers in his district will face the same challenge.
“We’ll do pretest and surveys and those kinds of things while also not wanting to overwhelm students with that kind of stuff, but we’ve got to get an idea of where everybody stands.”
Some districts are considering a schedule where half the students come on Monday and Wednesday with the other half coming Tuesday Thursday and Friday’s are left for cleaning.
Booth says at first parents might think it looks like students are not getting the time and attention they should in the classroom.
“Some people may say that if you got ten kids in a classroom with one teacher, rather than 20, 24 kids in a classroom with one teacher that group of kids may get more attention than they would have with 24 kids in there, so it could be a model where kids aren’t learning half what they would have learned, they may learn double what they could have learned because the class sizes are smaller.”
In the meantime, both districts want parents to bear with them as they finish developing their plans.
“At this point we just ask for patience, again they have a lot of questions, but so do we and we’re trying to work out answers to those and then move forward.”
Booth says parents will see the districts plans by August 1st.
“I think it will also be important for parents to know that things may change on the dime, this is going to take a lot of flexibility and cooperation and collaboration between every single entity that we have so that we can be successful and we can come back safely.”
Donkin says the most important factor is the health and safety of the students and staff.
“We are excited and looking forward to welcoming back our students and staff and reconnecting with them, I think that’s everybody’s goal and we’ll keep things as safe and healthy for everybody involved as best we can and see if we can get back to this new normal.”