Oswego School District 308 Superintendent John Sparlin has joined with superintendents from other large Illinois unit school districts in calling on the state to provide updated COVID-19 protocols for the next school year, including changes in guidelines governing social distancing in schools, quarantining and masks.
Sparlin was one of more than 40 superintendents across Illinois to sign a letter from the Large Unit District Association sent to State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala on June 22.
“As LUDA superintendents, we lead school districts that collectively educate over half a million students in Illinois. The last 15 months have been extremely challenging for everyone, and we are invigorated as we see our society beginning to return to a semblance of normal as our COVID spread rates continue to rapidly decline,” the letter reads.
“Current guidelines, if not modified, will create significant issues in the fall,” the letter reads. “Our schools have had very few cases of documented COVID spread. 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, quarantined students had a remote learning option available.
“With the return to full in-person learning next year, those remote options will not exist in the same way,” the letter continues. “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. 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’ social distancing concerns, according to the letter, come from the current 6-foot social distancing requirement, as “it is impossible for most of our schools to operate at 100% capacity.”
Instead, superintendents call for 3-foot social distancing with significant modifications, such as using desks instead of tables in classrooms and redesigning lunch procedures and bell schedules.
The superintendents call for social distancing, quarantining and mask guidelines in schools be made consistent with the Phase 5 health guidelines applied to other venues in Illinois.
“Through science, we know that children are the least vulnerable population to COVID,” the letter reads. “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.”
Superintendents called on the Illinois State Board of Education to immediately issue full guidance for the fall.
“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. If certain social distancing guidelines remain in place, and we have 100% of our students attending in person, our schools will have to make significant adjustments to the educational environment,” the letter reads.
“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.
“While we have the utmost respect for [the Illinois Department of Public Health], they do not have expertise in Pre-K-12 education or in the leadership of schools,” the letter continues. “We believe it is vital for ISBE to collaborate with IDPH, and other relevant state agencies, to create guidance that meets the safety needs of students and staff, and also allows for the highest quality education of our students as they return to full in-person learning.”
“The return to a more traditional learning environment is essential”
A news statement issued by OSD 308 on June 23, confirmed that Sparlin recently participated in a call with area superintendents and representatives of the Regional Office of Education, ISBE and IDPH to discuss the questions and concerns of districts for the upcoming school year.
“We want state officials to treat students in schools with the same equitable guidance and allow for the return to activities that Illinois residents are following across the state,” Sparlin said. “As COVID-19 rates fall, coupled with the majority of eligible residents vaccinated, the risk to students and staff is very minimal, and the return to a more traditional learning environment is essential.”
Sparlin has previously confirmed the district’s intent to start the 2021 school year fully in-person for full days of school, a process currently being worked out by groups of district staff and administrators.