COVID-19 raises back-to-school angst for parents

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Sara Roberson is adamant about not sending her daughter, a seventh grader, back to in-person learning at Jefferson Middle School.

Roberson said that if an alternate plan didn’t exist for her to pursue remote learning only, she would have home-schooled her.

“Kids absolutely shouldn’t be going back, especially high schoolers and middle schoolers,” said Roberson, a nurse.

James Robinson said he would like to see all four of his kids return to in-person school in the district this fall, including his daughter, a senior at Lanphier High School.

The bottom line is that Robinson wants them all to be safe.

“Until they come up with a strategic plan,” Robinson said, “I would rather them be at home, but at the same time, they need to be around other kids because that’s how you learn as well, through other people.”

It’s a conundrum for parents and guardians. Some said they have spent sleepless nights pining over the matter as they watch numbers of COVID-19 again spike in Sangamon County.

For others, the experience of remote learning necessitated by the closing of in-person learning in mid-March is very much on their minds. One parent admitted she had to make a spreadsheet to keep of her high schoolers’ classes and the different social media platforms teachers were using.

Both Springfield District 186 and Rochester school boards were to meet Monday night. Both District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill and Rochester superintendent Dan Cox were expected to lay out general plans Monday that, under Phase 4 guidelines from the State of Illinois, includes in-person learning.

The districts, it would include a hybrid/blended in-person and remote learning plan and an option for all remote learning. Both begin school Aug. 24.

District 186 elementary, middle and high school students would attend classes at least two days per week, but possibly four days, given class sizes.

While the District 186 board was not to take a formal vote on any plan Monday, a vote on opening up registration to students was expected.

Ball-Chatham spokeswoman Betsy Schroeder said the board was considering a half-day in-person/remote option and a virtual learning option with a vote expected at its meeting Wednesday. School there starts Aug. 19.

District 186 parents were expecting to learn Monday more details including what school days and class sizes would look like and the logistics of maneuvering school buildings, given social distancing and large crowd gatherings. Some 50 members of the public had signed up to address the board.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers Monday called for the school year to open with remote learning statewide unless a series of guidelines could be met. The stakes “are too high to return to in-person instruction right now,” the union said.

Flo Dickerson has five grandchildren in District 186. They are “scared” about going back to school, Dickerson admitted, with the biggest question being social distancing.

“They don’t know what to think,” Dickerson said. “It’s going to be a lot for everybody.”

Dickerson’s preference was for them to be in classrooms, albeit with fewer classmates, though safety is at utmost concern.

″(The coronavirus) is nothing we can control,” Dickerson said.

Lori McCurdy said she was scared sending her four children to Ball-Chatham schools, including a kindergartner.

“I’d rather have my children safe and alive and our family safe and alive versus having an education where they’re in a classroom,” McCurdy said. “You have to do the best thing for your family.”

McCurdy said there have been “a lot of sleepless nights trying to decide what’s best and particularly what’s best for our kindergartner. The older three can kind of muddle through. Our youngest are we taking away that experience of the first day of kindergartner?

“It’s definitely anxiety producing. There is no good option.”

Jessica Polhemus has two students at Springfield High School. “I am very concerned because I don’t see how it’s possible to keep coronavirus from spreading in that type of environment,” she said. “I feel that students and teachers and staff alike will be at increased risk if they’re meeting in the classroom.”

Remote learning last semester “was a struggle,” Polhemus acknowledged, so much so that she had to create spreadsheet to keep her kids on track.

“I’d rather have them fall behind (academically) than be dead,” Polhemus said.

Bob Breneissen, vice president of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, said he hasn’t heard of any parents who are opting their students out of in-person learning, though there are “blended” and remote-only options.

“We want school to open up,” said Breneissen. “We want face-to-face contact.”

The school enrolls about 525 students, he said.

SHG will go to a block schedule, Breneissen said, meaning classes will be 80 minutes instead of 45 minutes. It will use “A” and “B” day alternating weeks.

The school is also putting up three tents for outdoor learning on the West Campus, he said.

Robinson, the father of four who attend Lanphier, said he was pondering everything from class logistics having teachers move to classes instead of students - to families who struggled with technology and internet connectivity when the district went to remote learning.

“My hat’s off to those teachers and administrators because they have to figure it out,” Robinson said. “At the end of this, it’s going to take parents being more involved with their kids. It’s going to take, like they say, a village to get everyone educated.”

Robinson said he and his wife, Lesley, intended on watching Monday’s District 186 meeting.

“There will be some discussion afterwards I’m sure,” he said.


Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register,

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