District 117 will be closed for a portion of next week, and Superintendent Steve Ptacek is apologizing for a statement he made in an email yesterday afternoon.
Ptacek updated the community in an email communication to announce that schools would be open today and Friday. Ptacek had been considering closing school to give students and a stressed staff time to catch up with over 440 students absent related to COVID, and nearly 700 in total when combined with seasonal flu and other like illnesses.
In another update this morning, Ptacek announced that District 117 schools will close next Thursday, January 27th, and Friday, January 28th. Ptacek says making the call now gives parents, the hospital, and other organizations time to plan. He says the short notice that would have been given this week was a factor in the decision change. Ptacek is hoping that when school returns on Monday the 31st, attendance has greatly improved. To accommodate the move, two emergency days will be used, one being Casimir Pulaski day and the other will move to the end of the year.
Ptacek said during the regular School Board meeting, and again in a second email communication last night, that he needed to apologize for not clearly communicating his intent when he said “Even if many of our classes resemble daycare facilities more than schools in the upcoming week, they will remain open to allow our medical personnel and other first responders to go to work and serve all of us.”
The line was in reference to Jacksonville Memorial CEO, Dr. Scott Boston’s mentioning that Jacksonville Memorial might not be able to handle another loss in staff numbers if school is closed and a number of parents may have to stay home with their children.
Ptacek said when he wrote the first communication, his disappointment in having to make the call to not give all involved a break, came out in that line, and for that, he apologizes. He says he did not intend for his use of the term daycare to be taken the way that it did, and says every school does have an impact on its community that serves like a daycare.
“Every time we close down school, I don’t care if it’s a snow day, I don’t care if it’s for ice, we have upset people in our community who, while they value the educational aspect we do every day, they also require us to be a place where their kids go during the day while they are going to work. We provide a safe place for them to be, we provide food, we provide a warm place, a relationship with adults.
So there is a daycare aspect of all schools across the country, especially your elementary schools. And in that opportunity then we have these amazing teachers that push the curriculum. But that is a component of schools, and one of the reasons I was saying that if we stay open at this point in time, we have to be honest, in many of our situations it’s because of the daycare aspect because we know the educational aspect is being damaged.”
Ptacek says a suggestion by Morgan County Health Department Administrator Dale Bainter that he did not include in yesterday’s first communication, was that if District 117 took the next four days off, students would not be coming to school where they have safety protocols, which could lead to a greater spread of sickness, which could then have the adverse effect in school absences on Monday.
Ptacek says he would consider a closure in the future so long as it did not have an adverse effect on public health. However, he says he is very concerned about the level of stress that all the District’s staff are under currently.
“Our staff is stressed. Understandably, our staff is amazing, and they are stressed. We’ve had so many absences we’ve had staff have to do extra work and extra duty. I hate that this came out as a possibility and it didn’t happen, because I think some of our staff saw that as a light at the end of the tunnel. Having four days to step away would be a wonderful thing right now. I understand that, um but, I’ve got to go to sleep at night, and saying a decision I made might put some individuals who are going to the hospital in need in jeopardy.
But if it comes a time we are still having a substantial educational loss; which I do understand our staff’s mental health at this point in time is resulting in educational loss; and it’s not going to our hospital and therefore our entire community and local communities in a fragile state, then I will consider it again. But that’s the call I feel that when I look at myself in the mirror, that I have to make right now.”
Ptacek says he gets that staying open means that many classrooms might not be able to function as regular classrooms for the upcoming days and that he “failed miserably in trying to let staff know that the Board and I get that they won’t be judged if they need to simply care for students during this crisis.” he says “they are so needed now by the entire community. Like first responders, our staff are heroes.”
“It’s a tough time. I want to fully state that I understand the staff is stressed. I am sorry that in my attempt to try to alleviate that and to solve an educational dilemma, that I might have been leading on to a break that didn’t happen. I regret that. But ultimately given everything in this tough time, as I said, I had to make that call.”
Ptacek said that in his nine years he has not sent out a communication with more extreme responses on both sides and that he hasn’t had much regret in his career, but he does regret that one line and asks parents, students, and especially staff to read the letter again without that one line.