ST. JOSEPH — Last July, school plans were in flux, constantly changing as new COVID-19 data came in. Knowing how schools would operate simply wasn’t possible.
This year, St. Joseph-Ogden Superintendent Brian Brooks is glad to have clearer guidance and one assurance: that school will be back in person full time across the state.
“Things changed so quickly last year that it was kind of a wait-and-see approach a little bit more,” Brooks said. “Obviously, the new IDPH and CDC guidelines that came out a couple of weeks ago is helpful. That gives us a base to work off.”
Brooks, though, is still looking for a little clarity.
For instance, CDC and IDPH guidance encourages schools to make sure 3 feet is maintained between students. What that means for the need to quarantine close contacts of those who are fighting the virus, though, isn’t clear to Brooks, after last year’s mandate of 6 feet in between students.
“Six feet is doable in some of our classrooms, but not all,” Brooks said. “The emphasis, we keep hearing pretty consistently, is getting kids into the classroom. There just hasn’t been clear guidance on whether the quarantine is going to be 3 feet or if it’s going to be 6 feet. And that’s a big one.
“Certainly, I don’t think anyone can say the virus is gone, so we’re probably going to have some cases. And so that’s a big one as far as, is this going to make a bunch of kids have to quarantine and therefore miss school.”
Brooks also said he isn’t certain how the district will handle vaccinated versus unvaccinated students. Some districts have made masks optional for students, with some planning on enrolling unvaccinated students in surveillance testing.
Brooks is simply hoping to keep wide swaths of students from needing to quarantine.
“From the very beginning, I’ve stated publicly to our community, to our staff and to our students, that my opinion on this topic doesn’t matter,” Brooks said. “We need to follow what’s best for kids and keep politics out of it. I just don’t think politics belong in school on any topic. And so we certainly need to maintain that.
“There are always going to be aspects of guidance, during this pandemic or otherwise, that does help give us some structure for the school district. At the end of the day, our focus as a school district needs to be getting kids in classrooms and getting them educated, and that’s where most of my frustrations have come the last year and a half, and I think sometimes, both ways, it tends to fog it up a little bit. Our focus should be very clear in the fact that we need to figure out the ways to best educate kids.”
Last year, with a hybrid schedule all year long that saw half of students learning from home on any given day, simply educating kids was a struggle, Brooks said. While some teachers managed to nearly cover their entire curriculum, he is fairly certain a portion of students lagged.
“When we come back, we’ll see how far they are behind,” Brooks said. “We’ve got some measures in place, and some before- and after-school things to try to catch those students back up that need it. So those assessments will take place in August and September. That’s critical. We don’t want students to lose anymore.
“The one positive is, as of today, unless something changes, we will be in school from 8:10 to 3 o’clock, and all of our students will be here.”