Updated ISBE Guidelines Gives Pause to In Person Learning Plans

By Jeremy Coumbes on August 16, 2020 at 7:57am

Recent guideline updates by the Illinois State Board of Education, are forcing school districts to reconsider their return to school plans, again.

On Wednesday, the ISBE released updated information regarding what school districts should do if and when a student, staff or faculty member have COVID-19 like symptoms or test positive for the virus.

District 117 Superintendent of Schools Steve Ptacek joined WLDS during Friday’s “What’s on Your Mind” program, and says the new guidance means holding in-person learning could become very difficult very quickly due to the logistics involved.

He says districts he continues to be in contact with that are starting school now, are already facing very difficult challenges.

I just got off the phone with a school superintendent down south and they have started school and their community was also committed to in-person learning and understanding the importance of having kids in school. But based upon the new guidance and in working with their health department, on day one, this is what I was told, they had multiple teachers and multiple students that were sent home quarantined.

We are not even talking about they tested positive, they just, one tests positive and now they are logistically worrying about being able to provide in-person instruction. Not about health and safety, but it’s from a logistical angle of, if you don’t have enough bus drivers, or you don’t have enough teachers to be able to be there to provide in-person instruction, you can’t.”

Ptacek says due to the recent guidance changes, and effects seen in other districts already, he will be communicating to the district today, the reality of continued changes the district faces and to be prepared.

I am preparing a communication to send today to state the reality of it and say that I am going to discuss this with the board and with the unions, but at this point in time we are still moving forward with our plans, but everyone in this community must be prepared for their classroom, for their school, or for the district to go to remote learning.

And the thing is right now, with just the reality of how large of an impact this is since this guidance came out, and how we are seeing it implemented in schools, we absolutely have to revisit this, just to give people as much time as possible to plan.”

Ptacek says the logistics issues cause major concern for school districts for holding in-person learning in multiple ways. If a student or teacher tests positive, an entire class could be lost for two weeks to quarantine. Existing regulations state that if the district holds in-person learning, they are required to provide transportation.

Ptacek says there is a very real possibility under the new guidance, that the district could face a a situation, where there are not enough teachers, staff, or bus drivers to be able to hold in-person learning, and a switch to remote would have to be made on the fly.

Ptacek says in considering information provided by state and local health officials, combined with this new information from ISBE, the effect on schools and education as a whole, could be felt for a very long time.

It’s just the reality of, if this is how we are responding to the virus- and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be, I’m not the experts on that, but then we have got to start thinking about us entering into a reality that we are going to face this for a long period of time when it comes to schools.

I know the school board, myself, many of the teachers, have been wanting to resist that and say let’s give it a chance, but if we have to quarantine people and send people home and we can’t logistically provide the staff to do that, our view of the reality is then that we have to modify our thought.”

District 117 elected to return to school with in-person learning and the option of remote learning, at the last meeting of the school board.

On Tuesday the North Greene School District, and on Thursday Springfield School District 186 both elected to reverse course and open the year with remote learning only.