EFFINGHAM — After weeks of discussion, the Effingham Unit 40 school board approved a return-to-school plan that solidifies shortened school days, with grades kindergarten through eighth grade attending from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and high school students attending 7:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The Pre-K schedule will remain the same.
The shortened day allows teachers to instruct remote learners and also take time for prep and planning.
District Superintendent Mark Doan said he also amended part of the plan banning remote learners from participating in sports and extracurricular activities. He said those students will now be allowed to participate in those activities because of recently released Illinois State Board of Education guidance.
The plan will also allow students to switch their chosen learning format at different intervals during the school year. Students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade can switch from remote learning to in-person or vice versa after nine weeks and high schoolers can do so after one semester.
Doan said in an emergency situation, families can request a meeting with their building’s principal and the superintendent to discuss moving from in-person to remote or remote to in-person learning. He said those determinations would be made on a case-by-case basis, and there will be no guarantee a change will be approved.
Doan noted that as of Monday, 86 percent of over 1,700 respondents have chosen to learn in-person with 14 percent choosing remote learning. He said the more than 1,700 respondents accounts for over two-thirds of the school district, but those numbers could change up until school starts the last week of August.
Board President Angie Byers expressed concerns over how a shortened school day could affect transportation, as well as the amount of kids in the high school at a time, making social distancing difficult.
“I appreciate looking at the later start time in the morning to help with our staff and our students, and I think that’s great. My concern still is we can’t guarantee that’s going to work for a bus ... for transportation. I also wonder those kids, if they were to be sitting there until 1:45 p.m. — we’re saying that lunch will start at roughly 12:45 p.m. — those kids could be sitting there for an hour if they don’t have their own transportation. That’s an hour they’re losing of class time,” Byers said.
“I just feel like we also are going to still have the issue with social distancing. That’s a lot of kids in that building, and I am still concerned, like I said last week, about the amount of students we could have possibly in the hallways at the same time.”
Byers is also concerned that there will be several students gathered in the high school cafeteria at one time because some take free and reduced lunch.
Board member Robin Klosterman said while there are many in the district who take free or reduced lunches, there is only a small percentage of those students at the high school level.
Klosterman felt the plan was the best the district could create and that it could be modified if needed.
“There are pros and cons to all of the different plans every school is doing, I think, whether they’re having everyone come for in-person learning or whether they’re all staying remote. There isn’t a perfect plan or a good plan, and we don’t know if any of them are going to work very well. There’s negatives to all of them,” Klosterman said. “Bottom line is ... there are parts of this that make me very nervous, but I still think that it’s the best we can do given the situation.”
Board member Jill Wendling said it is time for the board to endorse a plan so the district can get rolling with accommodations and other plan-related items before the school year starts.
Byers was the only board member to vote “no” on the plan.
Meanwhile, the board discussed pursuing the 1 percent sales tax question for the November election. Board member Steve Bone said several area businesspeople have approached him to encourage the district to put the question on the ballot again.
Klosterman and Wendling said they would be in favor of putting the question out to the voters for a third time. They said they would like to see an effort to educate the public on what the tax does and where it comes from.
The board also approved the purchase over 150 ProMed guards to use across the entire district. Assistant Superintendent Jason Fox said Stevens Industries is making the guards for school districts across the area.
The board approved the following personnel matters:
• Approved the transfers of Laura Hodges and Lowell Fehrenbacher to four-hour bus drivers and Janice Doughtery to 5.5-hour cook at Central.
• Approved the resignation of Elaina LaPage as a cafeteria monitor at South Side.