Planning for next school year is underway after the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health released revised guidance for schools earlier this month.
The state guidance reinforces essential mitigation strategies currently in place, including social distancing; universal use of face masks and PPE; contact tracing and isolation of confirmed/suspected cases; increased cleaning and disinfecting; and frequent hand-washing/disinfecting.
IDPH has made a significant adjustment to its social distancing guidelines, however. Social distance for in-person learning is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff. Maintaining 6 feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning.
Capacity limits for non-academic activities such as lunch are determined by the ability to space students appropriately instead of a capacity limit per room. School buses are still limited to no more than 50 people.
Superintendent Dr. Larry Hewitt said that principals are evaluating classroom space for the next school year in anticipation of more families choosing in-person learning.
“The principals are looking at spaces to see how a typical class size may work within our classrooms. We want as many kids as possible in-person with desks as far apart as we can,” Dr. Hewitt said. “It should be a more normal return to school but not 100% normal” for next year.
Schools must continue to offer students a remote learning option if they or a household member have significant health-related issues. As plans for the next school year take shape, communication will be shared with parents. Parents will also be surveyed regarding any health concerns that might require remote learning for 2021-22.
Educational Model Unchanged for Current School Year
Dr. Hewitt noted that the educational model for this year is not changing for the following reasons:
- When parents made their second-semester choice of either five days per week in-person or five days per week remote learning, the district stated it would adhere to 6-foot physical distancing as a way to mitigate the risk of spread of COVID-19.
- If social distancing is reduced to less than 6 feet and a student tests positive for COVID-19, then all of the students sitting near that child would have to quarantine a minimum of 10 days.
- Any student who would switch from remote to in-person now would have new teachers, which is not educationally sound with only eight weeks of school remaining. It takes several weeks for a teacher to get to know new students, including their learning styles and abilities.