Kenwood Drone

Kenwood Elementary School in Champaign, above, along with Barkstall Elementary, will return to a balanced-calendar system for 2021-22 after spending this year as regular-calendar schools.

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CHAMPAIGN — When Brendan and Amy Elli’s son, Victor, began attending Kenwood Elementary School six years ago, they didn’t know how much they’d enjoy its balanced- calendar schedule, which includes a shortened summer and three-week breaks in the fall and spring.

That quickly changed.

“We’re like, ‘Hey, we get three weeks in October to do whatever we want, so we can go to Disney World or whatever when it’s a lot cheaper, and in March, we can do whatever we want,” said Brendan, whose daughter, Molly, is now also a student there. “But then, even cooler, June comes around, and we’re like, ‘He’s back to school in six weeks.’

“He got his sillies out for six weeks and then he’s back to school and it’s like, ‘Hey, he’s learning something and not forgetting.”

Last year, returning to school in July simply wasn’t possible with the coronavirus pandemic putting plans for the school year in flux.

So for the first time, the current students at Kenwood and Barkstall experienced a long summer and long stretches with minimal breaks.

For the 2021-22 school year, the Champaign school district is offering two options for families: fully in-person classes or the district’s Distance Learning Academy, a regular-calendar school that will act as a separate school.

The district will send parents a request to make a decision on March 29, and the decision they make will be in effect for the entire year, although they’ll have a chance to revisit their choice at the semester break as long as in-person space is available.

“That’s a really hard choice,” said Ashley Hallock, whose son, Luke, is in fourth grade at Kenwood. “This year has been hard on all of us. But for the boys not to be able to go hang out with their friends, that’s taking a toll as well.”

That means families of Kenwood and Barkstall elementary students will have a decision that not only affects whether they attend school virtually or in person, but also whether they go to school with a balanced calendar or a regular calendar.

And with balanced-calendar schools resuming classes on July 22, that leaves less time for critical questions to be answered, including whether children will be able to be vaccinated.

“If we were doing in person, we’d be excited” about the return to a balanced calendar, Elli said. “But we’re kind of afraid right now.

“We’re excited that they have balanced, but we might not be in person. We’re going to wait to see how we get a vaccine. When is a vaccine available for 9-year-olds? Once Molly’s vaccinated, once Victor gets vaccinated, we’re like, ‘Shove them in the school.’ But we’re kind of like, ‘Eh, how are we going to do this?’”

A year after the district struggled with its decision as to whether to invite kids back into classrooms for the start of the year, it’s up to parents this year to weigh the risk against the reward.

“We’ll have to figure out the lesser of two evils,” Hallock said. “There really isn’t a great option. I don’t necessarily fault the district for that, but I don’t feel that with the time we’re going to have to make a decision, we won’t have enough information to make a decision.”

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