School District 202 Superintendent looks ahead with hope
4/9/2021, 6 a.m.
Dear District 202 Community,
About a year ago, a little known and novel virus turned our world upside down.
About a year later, we have now moved most of our students to return to in-person learning five half-days a week. That began on April 7.
It seems like the world is on the verge of returning to something resembling “normal” again. We are very close, and naturally very excited – but we are not quite there yet.
Together we -- our staff, teachers, Board of Education, families, and students -- have made incredible progress over the last year working to address a nearly impossible situation.
Not everyone has agreed on the path taken. That’s understandable, considering how hard this pandemic hit us as individuals and families.
However, every step has been taken with the sincere goal of ensuring the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and the larger community. We adjusted our plans or direction (several times) as circumstances dictated, but our overarching commitment to safety has not, and will not.
Even as most of our students prepare to come back to school for five half-days starting April 7th – a wonderful moment that we have all been waiting for since March 17, 2020 -- that commitment to safety is why we cannot return to full school days yet.
The new state health department and CDC guidance both revised their guidance for social distancing between students from six feet to three feet – assuming adults are vaccinated and/or that those not vaccinated are wearing masks.
That seemingly small change is very significant. At six feet apart, we do not have enough room in our schools for all our students. At three feet, we can accommodate many more, as we will do starting April 7th.
However, if students are not wearing masks, then the guidance says they must remain six feet apart. Plastic partitions on top of desks do not allow schools to reduce social distancing for three feet for eating with masks off.
Students must remove their masks to eat lunch. If they do so, then they must be six feet apart, which puts us right back where we were – not enough room.
Some parents insist that “other districts” are finding ways to serve lunch, when in fact many of our neighboring districts both big and small are having the exact same problem we face.
Some districts are addressing it by allowing lunch service to only one level, but not to others. Some (in fact, all but four districts statewide) have fewer students than us. Some have more space in their buildings. And some districts simply have fewer parents selecting for their student to return to in-person learning.
Some parents have suggested alternatives like eating in the classroom or hallways, or even using tents and eating outside.
While creative thinking is always appreciated, unfortunately, these options create logistical, liability and in some cases, financial and staffing issues. Plus, having our students eat outside is not viable given the weather this area often experiences in the spring.
The hard and sometimes frustrating reality is every school district has its own challenges and resources.
Based on the guidance issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois State Board of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control, we continue to do what we believe is best for our District 202 students and community even as we try to get as many students as possible, back into the classroom as quickly as we can.
To that end, we are also working on plans for end-of-year events like a modified Prom, outdoor high school graduation, outdoor 8th grade promotion, summer school, and extended school year (ESY) programs.
We remain firmly committed to returning to a “normal” school schedule next fall, presuming scientific knowledge about the virus continues to grow, vaccinations continue to increase, and other health conditions continue to improve. (If not, we are already working on contingency plans, which I hope we never have to use.)
I cannot say this more simply or clearly: this has been the most challenging year of my educational career. However, we could not have made it through without your help, understanding and support.
Together, we will prepare our students for the future.
Dr. Lane Abrell
Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202