DANVILLE — Danville District 118 school board members will make a final decision as to when Northeast Elementary Magnet School will start and whether to offer behind-the-wheel driver’s education at Danville High School during a special meeting Monday.
Superintendent Alicia Geddis conducted a Zoom meeting with about 100 Northeast parents and staff Friday morning to share with them the challenges of reopening the school and to gather their input.
Northeast students follow a year-round balanced calendar and would normally start their school year in July, but the district most likely will have the school follow a traditional calendar for the 2020-2021 school year only. The first day of school for the traditional-calendar schools is supposed to be Aug. 13, but that could change.
“The rumor out there is that it was easier to start all of the schools at the same time, but all of this is hard,” Geddis said. “Before we could even talk about reopening schools we had to be in Phase 4 (of the state’s reopening plan), which starts today.
“We are not able to start school without PPE,” she said, adding that the district is required to supply the PPE. “The state wanted districts to consider starting school early so they could finish earlier in the fall (before a second wave of COVID-19), but we need PPE.
“The state said they will provide PPE for us on Sept. 1,” she said. “And when we do reopen schools, we will not be returning to a pre-pandemic school day.”
Geddis shared some of the highlights of the 60-page guidance the Illinois State Board of Education released June 23, but added that she expects the state to amend it next week.
The guidelines include: requiring face masks for all students and staff, restricting the number of people in a space to no more than 50, checking temperatures for students and staff before entering a school bus and before entering a school building, and needing many monitors to ensure social distancing on school buses and in hallways, restrooms and other common areas.
“Someone has to monitor the bathrooms,” Geddis said. “Once temperatures are taken at the door, everyone has to go to the bathroom to wash their hands.”
Students will be eating lunch in individual classrooms and not in a common-area cafeteria.
“Classrooms have to be cleaned after the kids eat lunch, and the children have to be taken to the bathroom to wash their hands,” she said.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, everyone in the classroom and everyone who has come within 6 feet of the student will have to be quarantined for 14 days, she said.
Geddis said one big concern was having enough staff – teachers, monitors and day care workers – when the schools reopen.
“We have a shortage of teachers and administrators in Vermilion County,” Geddis said. “I don’t know where the state thinks we’re going to get enough people to monitor everything and to provide day care for my staff. Where am I going to get these people from?”
Although the state is requiring districts to provide day care for its staff, employees can choose not to use it.
“Some staff won’t return because they have child care issues and they can use FMLA (Family Leave Act),” she said. “There are staff who have health issues and want to work from home.”
Some other challenges include the state requiring districts to provide students with technology and Internet access and figuring out how to run the bus routes while student riders maintain social distancing.
“We have placed orders for computers and masks using CARES money,” Geddis said, referring to Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding.
Geddis acknowledged that teachers are concerned about young children and special needs children keeping their mask on, so the district is trying to purchase full-face shields.
Safely transporting the district’s 6,000 students, most of who ride school buses, is a huge logistical challenge that Geddis said she and others are trying to figure out.
“By the time I get everyone to North Ridge (Middle School) and Northeast, it will be 1 p.m. and by the time I get them home, it will be 6 p.m.,” she said.
At the end of the 45-minute meeting, Geddis told parents, “We have no solid plans for reopening. It will be almost impossible to bring all 6,000 students back.”
During Monday’s special meeting, the board will:
• Consider approving a plan for behind-the-wheel driver’s education and a COVID-19 summer curricular program consent and waiver of liability form.
At the June 17 school board meeting, when the question of whether to approve the driver’s education plan for this summer came up twice, both times it didn’t reach the roll-call vote stage because it failed to receive a second motion from a board member.
To offer driver’s education, District 118 would be restricted to two students and one instructor per car, with everyone wearing masks. There also would be no eating or drinking in the car, windows must be open, and instructors would have to disinfect the cars between each behind-the-wheel session.
The district’s liability insurance carrier requires a signed waiver for each student holding the district harmless if he or she contracts the coronavirus. Parent-signed waivers for minors, however, are problematic because in Illinois a minor’s rights cannot be signed away.
• Consider approving the 2020-2021 Ownership in Education handbook. Some of the additions to the handbook include the use of smart watches, vaping, the use of counseling as a disciplinary measure and updated interventions by grade level. The district also updated its time-out and physical restraint policy so that the district maintains compliance with all rules and regulations from ISBE regarding seclusion and physical restraint.
• Considering approving school fees for the 2020-2021 school year.
• Consider approving an addendum to the district’s transportation agreement with First Student.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, First Student hasn’t had any District 118 students to transport so the bus company has asked the district to help with its expenses.
• Consider approving a disposal mask purchase for the 2020-2021 school year. A 45 school-day supply of masks for all students and staff will cost a total of $107,950 for 63,000 pediatric masks and 180,000 adult-size masks.