With COVID cases still high, some southwest IL parents want remote learning for their kids

Derik Holtmann/dholtmann@bnd.com
·3 min read

Parents in East St. Louis are asking the Illinois State Board of Education and local school boards for a remote learning option for their students as the omicron COVID variant continues to spread.

East St. Louis School District 189 has put in-person classes on an “adaptive pause,” with all students learning remotely since Jan. 4, citing the high number of COVID cases in St. Clair County and East St. Louis.

The district is slated to return to in-person learning on Monday, but some parents say they don’t feel safe sending their children.

“As part of our strategies to provide a safe learning environment, students will participate in weekly Shield COVID testing and, if applicable, the Test To Stay program,” Director of Communications Sydney Stigge-Kaufman said in an email statement. “Everyone must continue to wear a mask indoors and on school buses.”

Larita Rice-Barnes, president of MEOC and leader of Parents and Guardians United East St. Louis School District 189, said in a press conference Wednesday that despite the increased risk of infection, there were still issues with contact tracing and reporting with both District 189 and East Side Health District.

“You’re left at the mercy of others who may have tested positive or at the mercy of maybe seeing something in the news,” she said. “There has to be more streamlined communication and processes in place.”

Rice-Barnes organized a protest in September demanding a remote learning option. At the time, East Side Health District reported that cases within its jurisdiction had risen steeply from 127 cases in June to 477 in July and 525 in September.

Statewide, COVID conditions have deteriorated since then, even with vaccines widely available for anyone five years of age and older. On Sept. 15, the day of the protest in East St. Louis, the seven-day average across the state was 4,037 new cases per day. On Tuesday, Illinois had a seven-day average of 24,083 new cases per day, according the Illinois Department of Public Health.

There are no schools in St. Clair or Madison Counties listed as having an outbreak, according to the most recent Illinois Department of Public Health data from Jan. 21. There are 126 youth outbreaks in the state, which includes classrooms, youth sports, youth camps, and other school-related activities.

East St. Louis 189 maintains a COVID dashboard to track staff and student cases and quarantines in its buildings, but it hasn’t been updated since November. The majority of the student cases were detected through school-based SHIELD testing, according to the district website, and students haven’t been to school in-person for over a month.

Aiden Crist, a parent in Collinsville, said that he and his wife have kept their children home this school year because some members of the family are immunocompromised. He noted that he was lucky to both live in a district that offered options and to be able to stay home with his kids, and that school boards needed to look at the districts that were having some success with offering remote options.

“This can be done and it can be done in a way that isn’t detrimental to the students or the teachers,” he said.

Reporter DeAsia Paige contributed reporting for this story.

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