Teutopolis Unit 50 school board vice president Courtney Tegeler discusses the districts potential back-to-school plans as board member Troy Ozenkoski listens during the board’s recent meeting.

TEUTOPOLIS — The Teutopolis Unit 50 school district plans to send out a parent and staff survey seeking input on procedures for reopening its schools to in-person learning in August.

District Superintendent Matt Sturgeon told the Unit 50 school board this week that his office will send out the surveys via TeacherEase possibly as early as Wednesday. TeacherEase is a software in which district parents receive communication from the schools and is not available to the public.

Sturgeon said the anonymous surveys will cover an array of topics and request feedback on potential COVID-19 in-school guidance plans.

“The survey is multi-faceted. It will include certainly commentary or seeking some commentary about how remote learning went this past spring. We’re also going to share with them a bit more of the guidance information and ask for specific feedback regarding their desires and their wishes as it relates to returning to in-person instruction, Sturgeon said.

“Then we’re going to ask some questions in the event that Illinois would have a second wave and/or the state puts school districts back into a remote learning situation, how we can best meet the needs of our students in that environment.”

Sturgeon said following the survey, individual school building administrators will meet with their staffs to receive feedback from them on the possibilities of blended learning options, what they might look like and to what degree they might be feasible.

The staffs would also discuss the potential of moving back fully to remote learning should the state shutter schools again, Sturgeon added.

“In the event that we have a second wave or in the event that the governor again closes our schools, how can we increase the level of academic rigor? How can we appropriately grade and respond to student work, and what are the steps we’re going to take to ensure that if that were to occur, we’re again meeting the needs — academically, socially (and) emotionally — of our students,” Sturgeon said of potential remote learning.

Sturgeon said that at the board’s June meeting, they discussed potentially using A and B block days or weeks or even implementing morning and afternoon school sessions to reduce the number of students and staff present in the buildings at one time. He said a blend of in-person and remote learning was another possibility.

Sturgeon noted that guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and Department of Public Health released just two weeks ago has already seen numerous additions and changes, so the district may have to change its reopening plans to conform with what could be required in the guidance.

He said as the guidance stands, however, there has been some question as to whether or not the guidelines are recommendations or mandates.

“Please know that Teutopolis is neither ahead of the curve nor behind the curve in regards to our response and in regards to our plan. This is all unknown territory, and furthermore, the 63-page guidance document that you referred to, there’s some question on whether or not it is open to board of education determination and whether or not local control is going to continue to be present or whether or not it’s the letter of the law and if we choose not to follow the guidance to the fullest extent, we open ourselves up to potential liability concerns,” Sturgeon said.

“The district and our staff and our administration are firmly planted in a very difficult situation. No matter the decision that’s made, we’re going to be criticized from each of the extremes,” Sturgeon added.

Board member Troy Ozenkoski said after he reviewed the ISBE guidance, he felt it was open for school boards to decide which guidelines are feasible for their individual districts.

“Honestly, it is extremely open to interpretation from what I saw in a lot of the areas,” Ozenkoski said.

Ozenkoski also asked whether or not the district will acquire face masks, which Sturgeon noted are mandated in the guidelines. He also questioned whether or not the district should also focus on frequently changing out air filters in school buildings as he said the virus can be airborne.

Sturgeon said that the district is well equipped with cleaning and sanitation supplies, and he will look into changing out filters consistently. He also said the district is looking to acquire masks but there is still some talk as to whether or not to get disposable or reusable masks.

Sturgoen said his goal is to provide district families and staff with an in-person reopening plan and plans for potential full-time remote learning by the end of July. He said those plans could change right up until it’s implemented, however.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that we’re still in a situation where we’re, yes, five weeks out from the start of the school year, but there’s still a great deal of unknown. I think that it’s important that we express to the board and important that we express to our staff and to our community that we’re continuing to work on this topic, Sturgeon said.

“We’re going to continue to bring this conversation up here at the board meetings so that we can do everything that we possibly can to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff and simultaneously following state guidance but also meeting the interests of our community here in small town rural Illinois.”

Meanwhile the board also discussed the ongoing high school construction project, which is currently in phase two.

The board approved a $25,183 change order with LJ Swingler and Sons Inc. for phase two construction in the band room. The order will cover the costs of band room improvements like adding an acoustic cloud ceiling to disperse sound, moving band storage across the hallway and more.

The board did not approve two construction change orders. One change order would have been for including a sprinkler system and associated plumbing work.

Sturgeon said the sprinkler system and plumbing would be required if the weight room was relocated near the gym as the area also need sprinklers, expanding the current system to the room and other areas. The system and plumbing work would cost a little over $39,000.

The other change order would have included pre-planning work for the weight room if it were to be relocated on the west side of the high school.

The board did not move forward with the change order after hearing other temporary location options for the weight room. Sturgeon said the location would remain the same until the next construction project, which is yet to be determined.

Sturgeon said after meeting with the high school principal, athletic director and weight lifting teacher, the four came up with three options for the temporary weight room location. One of the options particularly stood out to the board members.

This option included moving the weight room temporarily to the existing study hall room and holding study hall in the library media center and/or the cafeteria. Sturgeon said no lunch hours would be interrupted by a potential study hall class.

The pre-planning work would have cost nearly $20,000.

The board next meets for a regular meeting at 6 p.m. on July 20.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.


Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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