School reopening plans

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ROCHELLE –  The main topic of discussion during the monthly Rochelle School District 231 Board of Education meeting was the district’s plan for reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year with an additional remote learning option.
Board members presented details from its 30-page plan to fellow board members as well as parents and teachers in the audience. Before presenting the plan, board members reminded the audience that the plan is only if the state remains in Phase 4 of Restore Illinois.
“As with this entire situation, this is a fluid moving target and this plan is a byproduct of a lot of collaborative work,” Superintendent Jason Harper said. “We have been working together and following all guidelines put out by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health.”
Earlier this month, the districts sent out a survey to parents to get feedback on whether they would choose to send their kids back to in-school learning or not if they had the option. After reviewing the results, a large percentage of parents are worried about sending their children back to school and would prefer an online option.
“It became clear in our parent survey that parents and students have major concerns about returning to school this fall, as 44 percent of parents said they would opt out of in-person learning if given the choice,” Harper said. “Providing an opt out choice allows for parents to put their child in a position to succeed while lessening health concerns.”
In addition, board members informed the public that the schools in the district do not have enough space to properly social distance if 100 percent of the school population were to return. After careful consideration, the district announced that its maximum capacity limit for proper social distancing is 75 percent. The district’s plan is to offer parents the first choice to opt-in or opt-out of sending their kids back to in-person learning.

“In creating this plan, our biggest limitation was adhering to social distancing guidelines,” Harper said. “Unfortunately, we do not have the space or personnel to maintain social distancing when we have all of our students in our building for the entire day.”
If parents choose to opt-out, their children will be attending school completely online from home. If they opt-in, those students will be returning to school in-person, but the school day will be shortened to approximately 12:30 p.m., lunch will be a grab-and-go style and all guidelines will be followed such as face masks required at all times by students and staff. Board members reassured the community and parents that the safety of its children is their top priority.
“We set out to put together a plan that would allow all our students and staff to return to a quality in person learning experience while keeping everyone as safe as possible,” Harper said. “At the same time, we have tried to build in options for parents and flexibility for the schools to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
The district is asking parents to make a decision for the first trimester of school and if they are on the fence about sending their kids back, to choose to opt-in, so the district can plan for the most possible students. Some parents who attended the meeting expressed their concerns to the board about the seriousness of the situation and the consequences it could have.
“I just hope that each one of you really takes it upon yourself to consider how you may feel if one of these kids comes down with COVID-19 after choosing to reopen the schools,” concerned parent Cole Thomas said. “If a kid gets it, that would be on you, because this board made the decision to open up. You should take all precautions or take none, if you can’t fully keep the kids safe, you shouldn’t be opening up.”  


Moment of silence
Board members started the meeting with a moment of silence to honor Diane McBride. McBride had been a teacher in the district for just under 20 years before recently passing away. Following the moment of silence, board members passed a motion to continue using its contract with Prairie Farms for its dairy products and updated board members on the current tentative fiscal year 2020-21 budget.
“We don’t have all of our numbers yet, but to give us the required 30 days, I just wanted to let the board know that we are on top of this and it is a work in progress,” business manager Kevin Dale said. “We will be presenting more details to the board in August so board members can actually see where the numbers are coming in.”