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RANTOUL — Tyler Wilson said his 12-year-old son is having to work well past his bedtime to get all of his school work done in the remote learning portion of the BlendEd education program.

Wilson said his son, a seventh-grader at J.W. Eater Junior High School, often has to work close to midnight to finish the work.

The BlendEd Academy program combines two days of in-person instruction and two days of remote learning.

Wilson told the Rantoul City Schools board his son is not the only one who is struggling with the arrangement this year and said he is frustrated by a lack of guidance and the cumbersome nature of the program.

One issue, Wilson said, is there are so many programs for the different classes.

“I own a barbershop,” Wilson said. “We were shut down like you were. I had to do research on how I was going to reopen (his shop). School had been shut down since April. You had 4 1/2 to five months to figure out a single or maybe two programs (for classes). As of last night there were six to seven programs my son has had to log into to do his work. There hasn’t been any insight to the parents on how to run them.”

Wilson said he doesn’t use a computer for his job.

“I use a pair of clippers and a pair of scissors,” he said.

Wilson said his son is on the computer doing school work for multiple hours in between meals and going to baseball practice.

Wilson added another opinion, “These kids need to be back in school for more than four hours a day.”

He said he has requested a hot spot so his son can access the internet when he starts going to work with him. Wilson said he will be able to “keep tabs on him” and he doesn’t have to stay up until 11:30 at night.

Move to synchronous learning

Ramage said beginning this week, J.W. Eater Junior High will move to synchronous learning, which entails more live teaching Tuesdays through Fridays in which students will receive instruction at the same time. The change is a result of parent feedback.

“It’s better when instruction is live,” Ramage said, adding the transition will take some time.

She said school officials, as they do during “normal” times, continue to adjust to what is best for students.

“This is one of those times that we need to modify and adjust for improvement,” Ramage told the Press. “The worst thing we could do is to not continuously improve.”

She said Eater Principal Scott Woods notified parents last week the school would be moving to more synchronous learning, “which will definitely help many of the concerns we hear from parents and teachers.”

Ramage said teachers would much rather have 100 percent in-person instruction.

“We have been in school for five weeks and have not yet had to close a school,” she said. “Many nearby districts have had to shut down an entire school, and they have been in session less than we have.”

Contrary to some districts teaching 100 percent remotely, RCS decided children “need to see their teacher teaching the lessons, not a computer,” Ramage said.

“In addition, just like we do in our daily instruction, we can then adapt our lessons after assessing what students have learned.”

She said synchronous learning “immensely improves” the interaction and connection between students and teachers, which will improve learning.

Budget approval

The board also approved the 2020-21 budget by a 6-1 vote with Andy Graham voting “no.”

The budget is $757,486 in the black with expected revenue of $26,407,374 and anticipated expenditures of $25,649,888.

RCS has seen a decline of $335,016 between the beginning and ending balances in four funds, including $362,360 less in the education fund, $167,701 in bonds and interest, $87,867 in transportation and $159,308 in health and life safety.

Balances were higher at the end of the budget year by $214,217 in operations and maintenance, $50,045 in IMRF/social security, $142,453 in site and construction, $10,214 in working cash and $25,291 in tort.

Twenty-two percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes. The county is late again on property tax dispersals, totaling $853,076.

Ramage said the district has $10 million in reserves.

Enrollment report

In the superintendent’s report, Ramage said RCS’ enrollment dropped from 1,819 last year to 1,680 this year, which she said is a trend being experienced in other districts as well.

“Since the last board meeting, we’ve moved from 43 percent in the Learn Academy (all remote learning) to 50 percent in the Learn Academy,” she said.

She said playgrounds have been open for a couple of weeks.

“Everyone, staff and students, are thrilled,” Ramage said.

Another change is having more IEP (special education) and bilingual students who will be returning to school four days a week.

There has also been a change in the meal distribution program with the state giving the go-ahead. RCS is back to distributing meals the way it did during the spring and summer. Ramage said meal numbers increased from about 250 to 500 last Monday. She anticipates that increasing further.

Social equity group formed

Woods outlined changes to the Title IX program, including how complaints of harassment/bullying will be reviewed and handled.

Woods also asked the board to form a working group that will focus on social equity.

“Inequitable outcomes are most apparent in standardized test scores,” Woods said. “White students outperform Black and Brown students; native English speakers outperform new-emerging bilingual students; and those from households with greater financial resources outperform students from low-income households.”

He said policies, procedures and practices will be reviewed that may negatively affect marginalized students. Plans will also be recommended to put into action in classrooms and the community.

The board approved the formation of a social equity group by a 6-0 vote with Bill Sweat abstaining.

In other business:

— The board has four open seats to be filled in the April 6 election. All paperwork is available from the county clerk. Petitions may be circulated beginning Sept. 22, with the filing period Dec. 14-21. The board seats are held by Sweat, Saundra Uhlott, Mark Keyes and John Brotherton.

— Debbra Sweat said a candlelight vigil is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, in front of the Rantoul municipal building. The vigil is designed to bring awareness to domestic violence. A short program will be held.

— The board learned there was a 17 percent decrease in the 1 percent sales tax money that came to RCS in June ($96,353), down from $116,547 the previous year.

— The board learned First Baptist Church had donated $50 per building for student school supplies.

— The board moved the date of its November meeting back to the normal third Thursday date of Nov. 19. Several months ago, before the COVID-19 virus created such upheaval, the meeting date had been moved to Nov. 17 due to the Triple I conference.  

— Learned Brotherton and Graham had achieved level 1 status of Master Board Member for the Illinois Association of School Boards, and Uhlott maintained Master Board Member status.

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