Ottawa Elementary students will have extended school days starting April 26 but details on just how extended the days will be are still being worked out with the Ottawa Education Association.
Superintendent Cleve Threadgill said the school board met with the union to discuss extending the school day for the first time on March 3. They have since met with the OEA on three separate occasions to bargain for a longer school day.
“There are a number of details that have been discussed early between the admin. team and this includes the K-6 buildings dismissing at 1:45 p.m. and the middle school dismissing at 2:30 p.m. except on Wednesdays,” Threadgill said. “Wednesday would remain a gap day for the entire district needed to continue to serve remote learners. This would also allow schools to receive additional midweek cleaning on Wednesday afternoons.”
Threadgill said the district intends to serve lunch in 30-minute increments in accordance with the IDPH and ISBE regulations with individual seating at least six feet apart in various spaces throughout the building.
He would like to poll parents to figure out interest in a longer school day so they can reach a consensus and reach all points of view.
The public forum at the beginning of the meeting saw a concerned parent and a teacher speak out with opposing points of view.
Stephanie Brewer, the mother of a Lincoln Elementary School student, asked the school board to consider breaking their standstill in order to get students back into school on a full-time basis.
“These children are the future and we as a district are starting to let fear take over and rob our children of the education they deserve,” Brewer said. “Our children deserve to be afforded every opportunity to learn, grow and experience everything that you, as teachers, have to offer.”
Brewer said parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and everyone in between have taken time to educate children as much as they can, but “they are not teachers and our homes are not a classroom.”
Brewer said all this has been done while trying to do their own jobs they use to provide food and shelter for their families. She said only providing three hours in a classroom for formal education doesn’t meet the needs necessary to grow up and become educated adults.
“Yet again, we are being told that it’s not possible because there’s not a process in place to stay with these kids eating lunch at school,” Brewer said. “I have to say this is no longer a respected answer. You owe it to our children to show up, do the job you signed up to do and figure out what we can make work.”
Rhonda Hackler, a sixth-grade teacher, expressed concern the COVID-19 numbers for La Salle County and the state of Illinois have taken another dangerous turn.
“You reassured us that it is the science surrounding COVID-19 that will drive your decision whether or not to extend the school day,” Hackler said. “The scientific data is quite alarming. The Chicago news reported last night that Illinois’ positivity rate is at the highest level since January.”
The COVID-19 positivity rate in Illinois just recently hit 5.6% and while it dropped back into the 3% range earlier this week, Hackler pointed out it was less than 1% just weeks ago. She is concerned the various strains of COVID-19 making their way through the United States could be resistant to the vaccines.
“I really don’t understand what we’re doing,” Hackler said. “We’re expanding our day by 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 1:45 p.m. dismissal time. What time we have will be spent when you factor in recess and restroom breaks to ensure the appropriate sanitizing is done.”
Hackler said the schedule as it stands is one of the best schedules around that allows educators to see every student who wants to be in-person for half their day and they’re able to check in with their remote learners every afternoon so teachers can know they’re doing their best to keep all of them as safe as it can get.