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CHAMPAIGN — Mike Anderson and his wife didn’t watch Monday’s Champaign school board meeting closely.
The parents of an incoming kindergartner and a rising second-grader at South Side Elementary, along with a 2-year-old, were satisfied with the plan the district laid out for in-person learning five days a week with some limitations.
Had they known the decision would be made to limit in-person learning to about half of the students in the district, they might have submitted a public comment.
“It kind of cuts out a large portion of parents who may not necessarily qualify for those programs, but they’re still in a family where there are two working parents,” Anderson said. “Now, we’re kind of left in a situation where we have to choose between our careers and the education of our children.
“Because for kids at the elementary age, it really requires an adult in the home to oversee it.”
On Monday, the district presented a plan to the school board that would give all elementary students the option of attending school every day. The goal, it stated, would be to have 18 students in each class.
The board urged the district to limit the number of children in school, and Superintendent Susan Zola said Tuesday that the district would likely begin the year with only students with individualized education programs and 504 plans for disabilities, English-language Learners and those receiving free and reduced lunch attending in person.
Whether they agree with the plan or not, working parents are stuck in a difficult position with around five weeks left before the start of school.
Sonia Springer wasn’t sure whether her fifth- grader at Barkstall Ele- mentary or her eighth- grader at Franklin Middle School would attend school in-person or virtually. As a nurse anesthetist at Carle Foundation Hospital, she’s seen the horrors of COVID-19 up close. She’s also sensitive to the plight of teachers, because her husband is one.
Still, having her kids at home puts her in an awkward position. She’s considering whether to hire a caretaker to come to her home on the days she’s working, or have her kids gather with a few other students from the neighborhood every day.
“I don’t feel comfortable with my fifth-grader being home all day by herself, attempting to learn on a computer,” Springer said. “And I think a lot of parents are that way. That won’t work for them.”
When school begins in August, students will have been home from school for five months. The virus will dictate when many of them will go back.
Kelly Small wishes there were, at the very least, going to be some facilities for students to report to and attend school virtually with a limited number of peers. For her two sons, one of whom is entering high school this year, learning from home hasn’t been easy.
“He was looking forward to going to a facility and finally meeting people who he can bond with, and that’s been taken away,” Small said. “He was devastated. … He was like, ‘I’m going to be taught by people I’ve never met. They don’t know me, they don’t know anything about me. I’m not going to meet anyone. I’m going to take off my one headset after my virtual learning and I’m going to put on my other headset and play with my online friends.’
“And that’s life for the next semester, or year, or whatever they do.”
At this point, parents don’t know what to expect. They have yet to see what the Virtual Academy program will look like or when they might be able to go back to school.
Springer understands that decisions in an unprecedented situation take time, but as each day passes without decisive action and clear information, anxiety increases.
“I understand that the teachers are not meant to be a day care situation,” she said, “but in order for parents to find any kind of other situation, parents need to find out, ‘Where are we going?’
“I understand that they want to do virtual, but what does that look like? ... It would just be nice to have more answers.”