By SAMANTHA PIDDE
The West Carroll School District will return to instruction next week utilizing two possible scenarios to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Supt. Julie Katzenberger.
“As of today (Aug. 11), there are two options for West Carroll students to start the (2020-21) school year,” Katzenberger said in an email to the Mirror-Democrat/Times-Journa. “The Hybrid option and the full-time remote learning option.”
Added Supt. Katzenberger, “Please visit the homepage for Learning Options google form (bright right of homepage). We will continue to assess the evolving situation.”
Last Friday, Aug. 7, the district addressed parents' concerns and questions via "Q&A" sessions on Facebook Live.
West Carroll students are scheduled to begin attending school on Wednesday, Aug. 19. As part of the "hybrid format" each student will receive two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote learning. All students will utilize remote learning on Mondays.
In-person instruction will be broken into two groups: A group (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and B group (Wednesdays and Fridays).
The A group will consist of students living in the village of Thomson and the city of Mount Carroll, as well as some of the rural students. Students living in the city of Savanna, as well some of the rural students, will make up Group B.
Three separate Facebook Live sessions (one for each building) were held Friday morning. Parents were encouraged to submit questions prior to or during the live event to be addressed by school administration and staff. Supt. Katzenberger along with staff from each building and Transportation Director Bob Nolan answered questions during each session.
One question asked was why West Carroll will be utilizing the hybrid method when both Chadwick-Milledgeville and Eastland will be holding in-person instruction all five days for each student (with the option for parents to choose remote learning instead).
West Carroll Middle School teacher Jeanette Ashby pointed out the other districts have a lower enrollment and can offer smaller class sizes.
Katzenberger added that the district utilized parent surveys in making the decision, which she said came back "pretty much 50/50" on in-person versus remote learning. Survey results are available on the district's website as part of the agenda packet for the July 15 meeting.
As per Illinois Board of Education restrictions, all students will be required to wear masks, both on buses and within the school. Regarding concerns about students having to wear masks all day in the classrooms, West Carroll High School Principal Joe Hansen confirmed teachers will have the opportunity to allow one student at a time to step out of the classroom and into the hallway to remove their mask and take a "breather" or "mask break" when necessary.
Staff members reminded parents that masks need to be taken home each day and washed or switched out with fresh ones. While the district can and will provide masks for every student, someone asked if parents can also use one they purchased or made themselves.
Staff said these masks could be used, adding that to test if a mask is "regulation," one should try to blow out a birthday candle while wearing it. If the candle cannot be blown out, the mask is considered acceptable.
Temperature checks are required for students and staff. West Carroll is requiring parents to take students' temperatures before putting them on the bus. Once at the school, everyone must pass through a temperature kiosk which will take a person's temperature at their wrist and verify they are wearing a mask. If a student is feeling unwell or warm throughout the day, he or she will be taken to the nurse and their temperature will be taken.
Questions about the district's fever policy, which currently does not allow students to return until they are "fever-free" for 24 hours, were raised. Katzenberger said this depended on their symptoms, with nurses making the decision. Ultimately, anyone displaying a fever must be checked, be fever free for 24 hours and have a doctor's note before returning to school.
Another question voiced more than once was what the procedure would be if a case of Covid-19 is confirmed within the school. Katzenberger said the district will be working closely with the Carroll County Health Department to make sure all protocols are followed and cases are reported.
She added that with assigned seating on the bus and in the classroom, students will be "tracked." The district will notify any students and the parents of any students who came in contact with students confirmed to have Covid-19.
Katzenberger said the schools are working to minimize contact between students. Lunch periods will be spread out (into more than one room for some of the schools), with students sitting six feet apart (no more than three to one table in the high school). Lockers and locker rooms will not be used to minimize students congregating around these areas and teachers will excuse their classes by rows to minimize heavy traffic between classes.
Katzenberger pointed out that one confirmed case would not necessarily mean the whole district or school would move to full-time remote learning, saying that would be a decision discussed and monitored constantly.
The superintendent said the district will not necessarily announce a confirmed case, except to those whose children came in contact with the student in question.
She said the district will not release the name of any individual testing positive with the coronavirus, adding, "But we will be as transparent as we possibly can.”
Additional information was given during the Q&A sessions, with Katzenberger saying a supplemental information packet would be available on the district's website soon. She also said the live sessions were videotaped and would be posted this week on the website.
According to a press release received Friday, Aug. 7, the county health department has reported five new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 66, including two children under the age of 12.