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Daily Journal
     October 29, 2020      #95-303 KDJ

Scott Reeder: No regrets on choice to put kids in

By Scott Reeder

SPRINGFIELD — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of American life but perhaps none more than our schools.

The Illinois State Board of Education reports that only 8 percent of public school students are learning full time in classrooms.

On the other hand, 63 percent are learning remotely, primarily through online classes. The remaining 29 percent are in a hybrid situation, where some days they are in a classroom and others they are home on a computer.

Just think, 92 percent of all Illinois pupils are learning in a different setting than they were just a year ago.

Students, teachers and parents have had to adapt to the change.

In August, I wrote about the decision of my wife and I to have our three daughters be part of that tiny minority that are in a classroom five days per week.

We decided the best place for a child to learn is in a classroom after being reassured by the pandemic safety plans at the schools where they attend.

Our oldest is a freshman at Sacred Heart Griffin High School. Our two youngest attend Little Flower School.

When I wrote the piece, the feedback from readers wasn’t entirely positive.

Here is what one Springfield-area reader had to say:

“This article is the stupidest thing I (have) ever read. You believe that our children should be in (a) physical school building makes me wonder if you know anything about the dangers of COVID-19. Perhaps you believe God will protect children who attend Catholic Schools — he won’t!!! You were given a brain. Use it!”

Now that students have completed their first quarter, I thought it would be interesting to look at how things are going at both schools.

So far, eight students at SHG have been diagnosed with COVID and none is believed to have contracted the disease at school.

How can they be so sure? Well, SHG has a nurse doing contact tracing and other COVID related matters. In each instance, the student was found to have been in contact with someone infected away from school, SHG Principal Kara Rapacz said.

As a precaution, students who had prolonged contact with an infected person, such as sitting at the same lunch table, have been quarantined. But none of those students who have had close contact have tested positive for the virus, she said.

At Little Flower, two students have tested positive. One was a 3-year-old-old in the pre-school and the other a fourth grader. The preschooler’s class is quarantined for 14 days. In the fourth grade, just those who sit next to the student.

“We knew when we started the school year it wasn’t ‘if’ we would have a first case, it was when,” Little Flower’s principal Bill Moredock said. “Little Flower ended up being the last Catholic school in town to have a case. But we were prepared for it.”

The ideal environment for youngsters to learn is in school with a teacher present.

Last spring, all schools in the state were providing distance learning. My daughters are all straight-A students.

Despite their motivation and intellect, last spring when all schools were providing remote teaching, our girls weren’t learning as much as they would if they were in classroom. This isn’t an isolated thought — many parents have shared similar sentiments.

Online learning is far from the ideal.

Let’s be honest; teachers staring into a camera lens have a harder time discerning if pupils are comprehending. And options for disciplining an inattentive or disruptive student in this virtual world are limited at best.

I worry these months away from the classroom will create a learning deficit for the 92 percent of Illinois youngsters who are not in classrooms five days per week. They may spend years struggling to catch up.

As community COVID numbers escalate across Illinois, all eyes are on Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Will he allow schools to continue to meet in person? Whatever he decides will affect the state’s two million students and their families.

Before sending my kids back to school, I reviewed their schools’ COVID-19 safety plans. Mask wearing and social distancing are enforced in the schools they attend. Desks are disinfected. Hand washing augmented with hand sanitizing occurs multiple times during the school day.

“We are so grateful to be here,” Rapacz said. “Back in August, I was just praying that we would be able to make it through the first week, so at least the teachers could get to know the students. Here we are now, 10 weeks in and doing great. The students seem incredibly happy to be here. School is very social and they want to be together.”

But she added there is a contingency plan to rapidly transition to distance learning.

“While things are going well for us,” Rapacz said. “We know the governor can shut down all of the schools in the state at any time he wants.”

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. His email address is ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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