Starved Rock region schools send COVID-related requests to state board

Requests seek adjustments in how time is spent during pandemic

After nearly a month in session, local school districts are asking the Illinois State Board of Education and the state superintendent to consider five requests to ensure full-day, in-person instruction continues by seeking adjustments in how educators spend their time.

The intention of the requests endorsed by the Starved Rock Region Superintendents is to alleviate some of the significant challenges local schools are facing.

“Last year, and as we started off our school years this year, we are once again are being inundated and flooded by COVID-related issues,” Peru Elementary Superintendent Jamie Craven said. “We know and respect that the state superintendent’s No. 1 goal is that we want to create and maintain a safe environment for our students and keep our students in school.”

These challenges include, but are not limited to substitute teacher shortages, nurse shortages, changes in remote instruction guidelines, student/staff quarantines, breakthrough infections, bus driver shortages, contact tracing and supporting the social and emotional needs of students and staff.

“I think a lot of us came in with optimism and hope that we wouldn’t be thrust right back into the situation that we are in,” Craven said. “We’re starting to feel the impact of COVID again. We are basically asking that they hear us and that they help us.”

Many of the newly implemented coronavirus measures take long periods of time throughout the work week local superintendents believe can be better spent elsewhere to help keep students in classrooms.

“We have a lot of things on our plate and if our No. 1 goal is to keep students in school then we need to be able to focus on those things,” Craven said. “The five things that we are asking for relief is going to free up, not just superintendents, but it’ll free up our administrative staff and support staff.”

The first request in the letter letter is an option for a school district to issue a one-year moratorium on tenured teacher and administrator evaluations whose immediate past rating was proficient or excellent.

The second request is to eliminate the growth component of the evaluation tool for one year for all evaluations. The rationale for the first two requests listed includes the fact these evaluations consume hours of time for each teacher and administrator.

The third request is for a one-year moratorium on required completion of administrator academies and a one-year moratorium or proration of required continued professional development for license renewal for professional staff. These requirements take licensed professionals from the classroom to obtain professional development over many hours. This puts a larger stress on the limited number of substitutes and will allow educators to better focus on the health and well-being of the students, the administrators wrote.

The fourth request is a bus driver testing exemption as school bus drivers are defined as school personnel in the governor’s executive order.

The committee requested this because of the widely-advertised shortage of school bus drivers throughout the state. There are other employment opportunities school bus drivers can accept that do not require a vaccination or testing.

As school transportation has been a problem, the committee suggests the state remove this requirement and put procedures in place to minimize contact by allowing seats open behind the bus driver to impede close contact.

The final request is to reduce or postpone the duplicate reports to ISBE and to extend or postpone the annual requirements school nurses are required to submit. Examples of these include monthly and quarterly expenditure reports for same expenses and student health data.

“School’s hard right now, it really is,” Craven said. “Our teachers are being asked to do things that they haven’t done in the past. We have support staff that are doing things that in a traditional school wouldn’t be doing and it just seems like everything’s two or three steps more difficult.”

The committee believes these requests will help free up school personnel to focus on addressing emergencies and to respond, prepare and prevent COVID-19 and other health risks. The request states school personnel are overwhelmed with COVID-19 related tasks and priorities have changed and reporting to ISBE has become secondary.

“All of the things that we’ve mentioned are not just something that superintendents are dealing with, it’s something that all of our staffs are dealing with,” Craven said. “We’re just trying to clear the way so we can accomplish the number one objective and that’s keeping kids safe and keeping kids in school.”

Local superintendents such as Craven, La Salle Elementary’s Brian DeBernardi, Princeton High School’s Kirk Haring, Oglesby Public School’s Michael Pillion, Mendota High School’s Jeff Prusator and La Salle-Peru High School’s Steven Wrobleksi all participated in the committee generating the requests.

Craven said the final requests have been through multiple revisions and completed with input from many regional school administrators.

Jayce Eustice

Covering local government, breaking news and whatever is thrown at me for the La Salle News Tribune