The Waterloo School Board voted at its meeting Monday night to table a vote on the plan for school in the fall, pushing that decision until a special meeting set for 8 a.m. Friday.
“We hate the idea of postponing this decision,” said Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron, who recommended the move. “At the same time, a decision tonight could possibly change by next week anyway because of evolving conditions in the state. It’s very difficult. I know parents need to know, teachers need to know and principals need to know, but we want to make the right decision.”
Charron said the pandemic has changed drastically since the board’s June meeting, and the district expects more guidance from Illinois later this week.
“When we started this conversation about four weeks ago, we were in the midst of opening up across the country,” Charron pointed out. “Today is a lot different than where we were four weeks ago. In 42 states, it’s a lot worse. In our metro east area, it’s a lot worse than it was a month ago.”
The board also tabled a decision on the school calendar, including when school will start.
Community members wishing to participate in Friday’s meeting via Zoom are asked to email email@example.com with “Board Meeting” in the subject line.
While the board did not make an official decision Monday night, the approximately 10 people physically in attendance and over 200 people watching via zoom asked questions during the public participation portion of the meeting that shed some light on the district’s planning.
For example, before going to school the district has suggested it may require parents to perform symptom checks on their children, which Charron acknowledged could present schedule problems for parents.
“If we are going to have school, we need cooperation from every parent,” Charron said.
He also said he knows some parents send their children to school sick and said, if possible, the district would perform its own checks.
But with so many people with coronavirus being asymptomatic, that can only go so far.
“Even us doing symptom checks is not going to catch every kid who has the virus,” Charron said.
Once children get to school, if in-person classes are held, Charron said the district will implement policies recommended by the Monroe County Health Department for quarantining.
Namely, Charron said the current plan would be for anyone who was within six feet of a person who tests positive with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes within two days prior to the positive test would quarantine for 14 days.
If a teacher gets sick, Charron said he expects finding a substitute teacher to be challenging.
“Substitute teachers are a problem for us every year under normal conditions… I expect the substitute teacher shortage to be a massive problem for every district this year,” he said, noting that many of Waterloo’s substitutes are retirees who are more susceptible to coronavirus.
That may mean the district could be forced to go an entirely remote route if too many teachers get sick at once.
For students who choose to do school remotely – which may be an option or requirement – Charron said the district will have enough Chromebooks for every student who needs one because it purchased more.
Some of those are on back order but should arrive by September.
A recent survey sent to parents, which over 50 percent have responded to, showed 83 percent of people in Waterloo planned to send their children to school if given the option.
At that rate, Charron said classroom sizes make social distancing impossible.
“We will not be able to have six feet between chairs,” Charron said. “We will try to have at least three feet.”
Charron also spoke at length about remote learning, saying schools could only do so much with that in the spring due to stay-at-home orders, state requirements limiting the time students could spend on school, an obligation to provide an equal education to everyone and short notice.
He said that would be different in the fall, as the state has dramatically increased the time students should spend on school, teachers have more resources and ways to communicate and the district has had more time and experience with remote learning.
“I’m confident now, for a variety of reasons, that our academic expectations are going to be significantly higher than what they were before,” Charron said.
He said the rigor of remote learning also depends on what the district decides to do, as a hybrid model where some students attend remotely and some attend in-person ups teachers’ workload.
“Our teachers are going to have an enormously difficult task if we provide in-person learning and remote learning,” Charron said. “But I don’t feel like we can tell everyone that your only option is going to school.”
To combat that problem, Charron said the district has discussed releasing students earlier than normal to give teachers time to work with children in-person and remotely, if the district takes a hybrid approach.
“Our teachers have families and have lives at home also, and we can’t have them here teaching until 2:30 or 3 o’clock and then have them start teaching for the remote kids,” Charron said.
As it deliberates how to hold school as early as next month, Charron said there are two main goals.
“We want to have the education that parents have come to expect, and we also want to keep people safe,” he explained. “Doing both is complicated.”