Princeville reopening schools with shortened days

For The Weekly Post

PRINCEVILLE – The possibility of schools reopening next month has split parents about returning their kids to classrooms, and there’s little clarity coming from the federal government. President Trump on July 8 said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “asking schools to do very impractical things” and asked the CDC to revise its recommendations, but the next day CDC Director Robert Redfield said it will not change its guidelines.

Meanwhile superintendents in The Weekly Post area on July 2 conferred with the Regional Office of Education (ROE), and Princeville’s district on Thursday (July 9) announced its plans for fall, highlighted by school days ending at lunchtime. “The first day of school for students will remain Tuesday, Aug. 18, as was originally communicated,” said Princeville Superintendent Shannon Duling, adding students “will be on a shortened schedule with students arriving at 7:45 a.m. and leaving at 12:30 p.m.”

Sack lunches will be provided before students leave the school, and breakfast will still be offered, augmented by snacks throughout the morning, he said.

Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Crider told The Weekly Post that area schools will be following Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health standards, but “details on implementing mandates are up to the districts.” In Princeville, Duling stressed that students will attend five days a week – and that PreK and Early Childhood Education will continue their regular morning and afternoon schedules, but “we just don’t see another way to adequately serve all students without utilizing an early dismissal.”

All students and staff will must wear face coverings at school and maintain social-distancing – which may mean moving physical education, music, band and choir to remote sites. Meanwhile, remote-learning options will be available for students in high-risk categories, Duling said. “We are trying to prepare for a moving target,” he said. “Our plan may need to change multiple times before the school year starts. There is much work to do. We want the safest environment we can provide for our students and staff.”

Reopening is difficult for schools and parents alike because of the possible health risks to kids, staff, families and communities. Although some children have had severe, even fatal, cases, they’re less likely to get infected or develop serious illnesses. That may tempt some to think the danger is overblown since young COVID-19 patients wouldn’t eventually show up with scars, wheelchairs or portable oxygen tanks. “Certainly, [the virus] is not so dramatic in the population of young children,” Crider said. “If it were more visible it would be more dramatic.”

Also, recent months have seen a rise in children of a “multi-system inflammatory syndrome” tied to COVID-19, whose effects can include lasting heart damage. Besides concerns about health, families worry about child care – particularly now in Princeville, where supervision will be needed for much of the afternoon. “I understand some parents demanding schools fully reopen,” Crider said. “I’m the mother of two girls and I had to pay for child care. I completely understand, [but] it’s not the responsibility of local schools to provide child care, though they often do. “We have to put students and staff above everything and make the best decisions we can with a limited amount of resources,” she continued. “There’s probably an ‘ideal’ plan, but we don’t have that option. We have to have a balance.”

Duling said Princeville will consider offering extended child care services for elementary children for a fee for families that don’t have a place for children to go after school. “We understand that no one will like all of these changes, nor some of the other changes that are yet to come,” Duling said. “However, the safety of our students and staff will always be our top priority.”