School board members speak on 2020-21 plan

Two members of the Vandalia Board of Education said that while the district’s reopening plan for the new school year is not going to be popular with many people, it’s what is best for everyone involved.
Ryan Lewis likened the situation to his senior year at VCHS, when an injury kept him from playing football until the postseason playoffs.
Lewis said he was cleared to play in the postseason game, but on his first day back with the team, he and the wide receivers learned that the Vandals were going solely with a ground attack.
“So, I was not happy, and neither were the other ones, but we sat there, and we went out to practice every day that week,” Lewis said.
“We didn’t complain. We didn’t go home and cry to Mom. We didn’t get mad, because we knew that we trusted our coaches, that they would only put us in a position to win.
They wanted what was best for the team, not for us individually. And they knew that our best chance to win that week was to follow that game plan.
“So we went to practice every day, we practiced hard. We probably practiced harder that week than we then had all season,” Lewis said.
“But we did what we were supposed to do. And we ran all over Mount Carmel, and we won,” he said.
“I kind of view that as a microcosm of what we’re experiencing today,” Lewis said.
“None of us want to do a lot of these things. But for us, as a school and as a community … you can extend that out as far as you would like.
“There are things that we are going to have to do that we don’t want to do. But at the end of the day, it’s going to get us to the point where we want to,” Lewis said.
Board President Joe Lawson said there are things about the reopening plans that he doesn’t like, but that he, like Lewis, sees them as being what’s best for students, school staff, families and the community.
“We, as the school district, are proposing and going to be voting tonight on a hybrid learning model that will have students attending every other day, one group of students monday and Wednesday, and the other group of students Tuesday and Thursday,” Lawson said.
“And following that, then on Friday will be an at-home day for students. Teachers will report in on a variety of things, including some online instruction,” Lawson said.
“There’ll be an option during registration for students to choose a virtual-only option. If you do not want your child to return to the classroom for whatever reason, whether your fear of COVID-19, fear of wearing a mask or whatever your concern is, we want to honor that with a virtual-learning-only option.
“However, if you choose that, it’s for the whole semester,” Lawson said.“We can’t start off and then a week into the virtual-learning thing, think ‘Well, this really stinks and I’m going opt out now.’
“We want to keep that hard and fast rule going on that. When you begin, you’re in virtual or you’re in class. And so, you know, some health issues may come up, we have to flex a little bit, but overall we want to hold that standard,” Lawson said.
“We’re working with some community partners to try and provide some additional child care for those parents which are dual income families and will struggle with having two kids at home during the day without parental or grandparent supervision.
“This is going to be closely monitored at registration to see who’s really needy of the service, and we have several partners through the Y (Family YMCA of Fayette County) and churches that are working together to get this off the ground by the time school starts,” he said.
“Our hybrid model will require students to wear masks, and I realize that’s a hot buttons. As board members and superintendent, administrators and teachers, we have read volumes of information from every side of the face-mask argument and issue,” Lawson said.
“Health care providers can’t agree, we understand that. Doctors don’t agree, we understand that.
“The bottom line is, we have four different groups that we have to pay attention to to have school.
“One is CDC (Centers for Disease Control), which recommends face masks.
“Another is the Illinois State Board of Education, which sets guidelines for us to come together as a school district and have in-person school. They have a set of guidelines that we must adhere to, which includes class size and face masks,” Lawson said.
“We also have to pay attention to the Illinois Education Association, (the) teachers union. That’s a good group of folks – they want to protect their union members.
“We want to honor our staff and keep them safe. Some are risks because of diseases in the past or immune systems are depleted. Others are have concerns because they have family members at home, which are in that at age group, like myself.
“So, we look at these things, and the IEA (Illinois Education Association), which is a statewide Association, 40 percent to 50 percent of the teachers have been indicated they will not return the classroom unless masks are worn. So, we cannot begin school – pay attention to this – with half staff,” Lawson said.
“And, also, the IHSA (Illinois High School Association) is another group, which dictates what sports and what sports will apply.
“And we have received one mandate in June and another on the first of July – you can practice, you can’t practice,” Lawson said.
“So to say that we’re frustrated as a school board is to say the least. But we’re elected to do what’s in the best interest for students, staff, administration and community.
“I have to set my personal agenda in society. No matter what I think about a mask, it’s the wisest thing to do,” he said.
“No matter what I think about every-other-day school, it’s still the wisest thing to do, because the size of our classroom doesn’t warrant us having 30 kids in the classroom – we don’t have enough square footage.
“We don’t have enough lunchroom space to keep 50 people in the lunchroom, and so we’re doing the best we can, making the wisest choices for the majority of students,” Lawson said.
“We can’t start school with half our kids in math and half not. I’m sure that the teachers will have some concerns about students keeping their mask on,” he said.
“We’ve all been out in public and saw a worker in a restaurant or a store, he’s got his mask half down, half on. I get all that, and I don’t like it either – I have to take my glasses off, they fog up.
“We’ve met every week, trying to figure this thing out, and we read voraciously for two months about lots of things, and we just have to set our personal agendas aside and do what’s best for the greatest number of students and staff in our district,” Lawson said.

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