Kane County school superintendents ask Illinois State Board of Education to relax COVID-19 guidelines

Several Kane County school superintendents, including the superintendents of Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Kaneland, West Aurora and Elgin school districts, are requesting the Illinois State Board of Education relax COVID-19 guidelines for the fall school year.

Those superintendents along with superintendents from other large unit school districts throughout the state on June 22 sent a letter to Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala voicing their concerns about the current guidelines and how they will impact the school year.

Their concerns revolve around quarantining and social distancing.

“Our schools have had very few cases of documented COVID spread,” the letter states. “There have been thousands of students quarantined this year and the in and out of in-person school has been very disruptive to our students’ education. In most cases, when students were quarantined in the past year, our schools had remote learning options in place for them. With the return to full in-person learning next year, those remote options will not exist in the same way.”

In May, the Illinois State Board of Education voted on a resolution that would require all schools to resume in-person learning. The board also decided that remote instruction needs to be made available for students who are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and are under a quarantine order by a local public health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health

“In many cases, quarantined students will be taught with homebound instruction, which does not equate to the time and quality they received from remote instruction,” the letter goes on to say. “When considering the cost/benefit of both health and education, we do not believe the current quarantining guidance is most appropriate for our students.

The superintendents also raised concerns about the current social distancing guidelines. Earlier this year, the Illinois State Board of Education released revised public health guidance for schools.

Social distance for in-person learning is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff.

“Maintaining 6 feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning,” stated the Illinois State Board of Education. “Unvaccinated staff should maintain 6 feet social distance as much as possible because adults remain more susceptible to infection than children. Strict adherence to social distancing must be maintained when face masks are removed in limited situations and monitored by school staff.”

The superintendents contend that under the 6-feet social distancing guidelines, “it is impossible for most of our schools to operate at 100 percent capacity.”

“Using 3-feet social distancing guidelines, full capacity is possible in most cases, but only with significant modifications,” their letter states. “Those modifications include, but are not limited to, items such as different furniture (desks instead of tables), completely redesigned lunch procedures and new student bell schedules.”

They are requesting that social distancing, quarantining, and masking guidelines in schools “be consistent with health guidelines of Phase 5 as applied to other venues in Illinois.”

“Through science we know that children are the least vulnerable population to COVID,” they state in the letter. “Generally, we know that in normal circumstances, schools are the most controlled, supervised venue that kids attend. Schools should not have to operate under tighter restrictions than what has been deemed safe in other circumstances. If there are continued social distancing and quarantining guidelines in place, we ask that they be consistent among agencies and local health departments.”

They also request that the Illinois Board of Education issue full guidance for the fall immediately.

“Unless there is a significant change in the spread of COVID over the next two months, there is nothing that will be known in two months that is not known today,” the letter states. “If certain social distancing guidelines remain in place, and we have 100 percent of our students attending in person, our schools will have to make significant adjustments to the educational environment. The planning and expenditures to make those adjustments need to happen now. Conversely, we do not want to spend taxpayer dollars on mitigation purchases that will ultimately not be needed.”

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.