Catholic schools going in-person

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Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Belleville Jonathan Birdsong announced over the weekend that Catholic schools in the area will offer in-person instruction five days a week this upcoming school year. 

“The health and safety of our students is now and has always been our primary goal, but we have always educated the whole: mind person, body and spirit,” Birdsong said in a YouTube video. “And to deviate from that now would clearly not be in the best interest of students. Many experts and logic clearly point to an in-person option as being the best option for students, and we feel we can safely accomplish this goal at this time.” 

Monroe County Catholic schools are within the Belleville Diocese, though there will be slight variations between each of the plans at Gibault Catholic High School, Immaculate Conception School and Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School. 

Birdsong said the diocese consulted with doctors and information from organizations like the Illinois Department of Public Health to create a guidebook for schools in the fall. 

Principals at each school in the diocese then used a template to create a plan with input from stakeholders in the community. Each school is at various stages of that phase. 

Schools will also offer a more robust remote learning plan for those who want to choose that option. Parents need only to talk to principals to set that up.

Finally, Birdsong called for people to be understanding of others’ views and not “demonize” those who disagree with them on this issue. 

Gibault has not announced official reopening plans, though it confirmed to the Republic-Times that the diocese approved its plan. 

The school also said it will have students in-person five days a week. It will also have a procedure in place for parents to check their children for symptoms each day, with the school able to perform temperature checks if needed. 

Gibault is unsure if it will have a mandatory mask policy, and Gibault Principal Stephen Kidd said furniture will be arranged to allow for maximum distancing for its small classes. 

It has added some classes to help with that. 

“Please be patient as things go along,” Kidd said. “We’re certainly trying to find the best blend between learning and safety. We want to have the greatest learning environment and do it in the safest way.”

When it does finalize a plan, Kidd said it will be a “living document” that can be modified as needed. 

For those who decide not to send their child to school in-person, Kidd said Gibault’s already vaunted remote learning program will be even more robust. 

“We’re going to be prepared to have students in and out of class,” he said, noting many will miss days due to being sick. 

At SPPCS in Waterloo, all students must wear masks throughout the day. 

Each student will bring their own mask, though the school will also provide extra ones if needed. 

SPPCS will also require students to have their temperature taken before school, and it will be retaken before lunch. 

Social distancing will be enforced during lunch periods, and students will be divided into “cohorts” to minimize exposure to others.

“We are very excited to get back into the school building and to be together again,” SPPCS Principal Lori Matzenbacher said. “Our teachers and staff have been working hard to create a safe and welcoming learning environment for our students. We have the support of our families, parish and community to make this happen in the safest way possible.”

Those who want to choose remote learning can still do so. Google Classroom and instructional videos will be key components of that approach. 

ICS in Columbia will take an extremely similar approach to SPPCS, making masks mandatory for basically all of the day, using the cafeteria and gym to facilitate social distancing during lunch, dividing students into cohorts, checking temperatures and offering a remote learning option. 

The goal for remote learning is to make it as similar as in-person instruction through Google Classroom and students watching classes live. 

“We have to trust that the people in our system are going to follow the rules. That’s the biggest part of this,” ICS Principal Mike Kish said. “If they follow the rules, if they use every single safety precaution, if they go to a hot spot area and come back and quarantine themselves, if they follow those kinds of things for the good of the group, understanding this is the price we pay to have one-to-one in-person learning, this thing will work.”

Kish added that the school’s plan is not political but based in science. 

“We’ve got to follow the science,” he said, noting the smaller size of Catholic schools makes having students in the building easier. “We’ve got to follow the best practices. We’ve got to do what we don’t want to do. It always comes back to, if you’re willing to give up a little, you’re going to get more.” 

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