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District 95 schools return to in-person learning

By Curtis Winston
Contributing Writer
updated: 10/18/2020 9:23 AM

Edit: This story in print and online originally stated classes would resume Oct. 22. That is incorrect, and the story below has been corrected.

Carbondale Elementary School District 95 will start back with in-person classes, as administrators continue to weigh the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the needs of students who are struggling to keep up with remote-learning.

Superintendent Daniel Booth told the Board of Education Oct. 8 that he was working with the Jackson County Health Department on tracking the metrics of COVID-19.

Schools re-open Thursday, Oct. 22 for K-8th grades and Monday, Oct. 26 for pre-K students.

Parents were quickly surveyed, and around 40 percent favored sending their kids back to school, while around 60 percent wanted their children to stay home and keep remote learning, Booth said.

Booth said the numbers are good for District 95, because the 40 percent will allow for social distancing in classrooms and on school buses.

"This is a nerve-wracking time. Schools all across the country are making decisions whether to return or not," Booth said. "Remote-learning is not working for some of them, and they are falling behind. Parents want options."

While the majority of students are engaging online, Booth acknowledged there are attendance problems, and technical issues with turning in assignments.

Meanwhile, other area schools are also starting back with in-person classes, including Giant City, Unity Point and Carbondale Community High School, Booth said.

Janice Pavelonis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said classes start at 7:50 a.m. with dismissal at 3 p.m., with attendance four days a week. Wednesdays are still entirely remote-learning days.

Board member Gary Shepherd said he had concerns about returning to school just ahead of the holiday season, as well as cold-and-flu season.

"Coming back now would be jumping the gun," he added.

Booth said there will still be checks for illness, with monitoring of temperatures and symptoms such as runny noses.

"If a teacher or class has to isolate, we will put that whole class on remote," Booth said.

Board Vice President Carlton Smith asked how teachers were going to deal with in-person students and remote students at the same time.

Booth said most of the Middle School classes would likely be taught concurrently, while the elementary teachers will have in-person classes in the mornings and follow up with remote learners in the afternoons.

Board member Angela Watters supported the return to in-person learning. She noted that Southern Illinois University classes would be going fully remote after Thanksgiving, giving District 95 a further advantage against COVID-19 exposure.

Booth said the No. 1 priority would be to follow the guidelines -- 6 feet of social distancing and wearing face masks.

Board Secretary Catherine Field said that remote-learning did not necessarily work for all children. "If we have an opportunity to help the kids that need extra help, I think we have to put that first once in awhile."

Angela Grimmer, district music teacher, called in to the meeting to say she had "grave concerns about returning to in-person learning at this time".

She cited a death in her family from COVID-19, and a parent at high risk for the virus.

"It doesn't matter how few families want to return to in-person learning. All it takes is one exposure," Grimmer said. "It doesn't matter how well our students can read, write or do math if they are dead."

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