While families with students at St. Joseph Grade School and Middle School may want their students back in school more often than the half day, every day schedule the district currently uses, but for that to happen several things would have to occur said Superintendent Todd Pence.
Pence said the safety of the district’s staff and students is their top priority and the administrative team meets regularly to discuss how to get students back in the building full time.
“There isn’t one public school district in Champaign, Vermillion, Ford, Piatt or Douglas County that is fully in-session,” Pence said. “Meaning that no one is back to a normal schedule.”
Pence said every district in the area is doing some sort of hybrid schedule.
Pence said the administration does not feel it makes sense to switch to a different type of hybrid schedule at this point in the school year.
“Our decision is heavily dependent upon the COVID guidelines from the State Board of Education and the Champaign Urbana Public Health Department that we must follow,” Pence said. “Until the guidance from the Health Department or the State Board changes we cannot return to school on our regular full-time schedule.”
Pence said there are several obstacles impeding their ability to come back to school full time including their classrooms not being large enough to accommodate more than 20 students and keep their desk six feet a part. If the district ignores the social distancing guidance every time someone test positive for COVID-19 everyone in the classroom will be required to quarantine for 10 days, including the teacher.
“If staff members have to quarantine, we only have a limited number of substitute teachers so this could force the school or district to temporarily close,” Pence said.
Pence said lunch time also poses challenges because only 50 students can be accommodated in one space under current guidelines. The students must be six feet apart and face the same direction. Pence said the cafeteria and the gym could be used but only two classrooms could eat lunch at a time.
“If both spaces were used it would take three hours to serve lunch and it would prevent us from utilizing the gym for PE classes,” Pence said. “Staff availability for supervision during this extended time and in additional spaces would be problematic.”
Pence said that the district would also have issues staffing the full-time remote only students. The state has required the schools to provide a remote only option to parents. One teacher at each grade level in kindergarten through fifth grade teachers the remote classes in the afternoon. If the district returns to full time, there is no one available to teach those classes. Pence said the district would also have to move students to a new teacher or classroom to balance out class sizes for a full-day schedule and that could be upsetting to some students. Pence said the required symptom screening and temperature check would also take approximately 30 minutes if they returned to full-time instruction.
“A 30 minute drop-off line for parents does not seem practical nor would we have supervision if we began at 7:30 because the students cannot gather together,” he said.
Pence also said there are restrictions on what would and could happen in classrooms. Students cannot work in small groups or with partners and cannot participate in centers. Students would have to remain at their desks for most of the day and recess would be very limited. Also, the students would have to be masked.
Pence said he wants parents to know the district wants students in school full time as much as they do and are working every day to meet that goal.
“We are discussing and planning everyday hoping we will be able to return to a normal schedule,” Pence said. “As soon as we can safely return to a ‘normal schedule’ we will do so and we will communicate the plan. Our hope is for that to happen sometime this spring, but as of today that just isn’t an option under the current guidelines.”