Springfield School District 186 board members confident in schools' COVID precautions

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Students line up for third grade teacher Amanda Buxton on the first day of school for District 186 at Owen Marsh Elementary School in Springfield on Aug. 23, 2021. Illinois public and private schools are required to have indoor masking for staff and children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and in child-care centers [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]
Students line up for third grade teacher Amanda Buxton on the first day of school for District 186 at Owen Marsh Elementary School in Springfield on Aug. 23, 2021. Illinois public and private schools are required to have indoor masking for staff and children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and in child-care centers [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

School District 186 board of education member Buffy Lael-Wolf admitted with surging numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the community, it felt "counterintuitive" to be back at school.

But Lael-Wolf, who works as an RN-informaticist at Springfield-based Hospital Sisters Health System, said schools are doing enough to address the problem.

The proof?

"My child goes into the schools and I feel very comfortable sending her there with the mitigations we have in place currently," Lael-Wolf said at Tuesday's meeting.

See also: COVID-19 causes North Mac to pause classes; close to 2,000 D186 students in exclusion

Nearly 2,000 public school students were excluded from classrooms according to the district's COVID-19 website Tuesday.

That came against the backdrop of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health reporting 2,333 new positive cases of the virus from Saturday through Tuesday, meaning the county has had over 5,500 new cases in the last seven days.

Even though the City Basketball Tournament games will go on starting Thursday, everything from attendance to cheering will be limited because of COVID-19.

Lael-Wolf said one of the "insistence" of the tournament moving forward was that the district had the support of the county health department.

Attendance will be limited to 3,000 spectators per night and a mask mandate will be enforced inside the Bank of Springfield Center, Superintendent Jennifer Gill said. The Gary Sullivan Spirit Award is being curbed this year and Unity Day, a way for students from the four high schools – Lanphier, Southeast, Springfield and Sacred Heart-Griffin –to get to know one another better has been postponed.

As an alternative, all games will be live streamed on the district's YouTube page.

Lael-Wolf said she had "confidence" in the ways schools are mitigating problems with masking, surveillance testing and social distancing.

Lael-Wolf said earlier she didn't want to see a district-wide pause in learning that would have prolonged the winter break.

"Adaptive pauses" by classrooms, she added, have helped identify – and address – COVID hotspots.

"If there's a hotspot at one school, it shouldn't mean that all the doors should close at another school across town," Lael-Wolf contested. "Because we're a large district and we have the ability to spread out a little bit, that helps a lot in not having to shutter the entire district."

Gill said there were four "adaptive pauses" reported Tuesday.

Last week, several classrooms over five different elementary schools and the Early Learning Center had to take an "adaptive pause" because of the number of student COVID-19 cases and primary contacts identified.

Under an "adaptive pause," Gill said, students can be away from their classrooms and doing remote learning. In some situations, it can, Gill added, look more like a hybrid model with some students present in the classroom and others learning remotely.

"Every situation is different, so we're taking each individual case as it comes and looking and analyzing the situation as it is," Gill said. "It's a lot of work, no matter what."

Board member Erica Austin insisted schools were doing their best to take precautions.

"They're doing what they can to make sure our kids are safe," she said.

Mask update

During the public comment section of Tuesday's meeting, Jennifer Rockwell, a music teacher at Fairview Elementary School, said it can be a chore getting students to wear masks properly.

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Rockwell said she is in eight to 11 different classes every day.

"Masks are regularly below students' noses," Rockwell said. "I'm not sure how many times I tap my nose in a 30-minute class period as a silent reminder to pull up a mask."

Geneice Thompson, a student representative on the board, said she "completely" gets teachers' frustration.

"We do have students who aren't always wearing their masks properly," said Thompson, a senior at Lanphier. "I do know our teachers are trying their best and when they see students (doing that), they point them out. We've even gotten to the point where other students are reminding their peers to wear their masks, which is great."

Gill said mask wearing is a shared responsibility with students, parents, teachers and principals.

"It is a very hard thing to do, to wear a mask all day," Gill said after the meeting. "I know kids are struggling with that. It's a constant battle for us. It's very difficult to want to punish a child for not wanting to wear a face mask because it is very restrictive. Kids may have disabilities or may have trouble breathing or may have asthma.

"A majority of the district has been doing a great job of reinforcing the mask. We're doing everything we possibly can in an area that's been difficult and hard to deal with."

Adam Cook questions the board about metal detectors during the public comment section of Tuesday's board of education meeting at 1900 W. Monroe St. in Springfield. The board is considering implementation of metal detectors at several schools, particularly after the Nov. 17, 2021 fatal stabbing of Lanphier High School senior Pierre V. Scott Jr. outside of the school.
Adam Cook questions the board about metal detectors during the public comment section of Tuesday's board of education meeting at 1900 W. Monroe St. in Springfield. The board is considering implementation of metal detectors at several schools, particularly after the Nov. 17, 2021 fatal stabbing of Lanphier High School senior Pierre V. Scott Jr. outside of the school.

Metal detectors

Gill said she hoped to have "rough numbers" on costs of metal detectors to board members by its Feb. 21 meeting after a "request for purchase" went out from the district.

The consideration is to have the metal detectors installed at the three public high schools and its five middle schools, plus Lincoln Magnet School, Douglas School, Springfield Learning Academy and Lawrence Adult School.

At its Jan. 5 meeting, board members got a look at preliminary costs of around $1.24 million over four years for touchless express single and dual lane security detection systems. The district is looking at a lease option.

Adam Cook said Tuesday while he isn't naive about security, "I have concerns my sixth-grader is going to come in and out of a prison-type environment every morning."

Speaking during public comment, Cook said he and other parents also wondered how the board got to this point regarding metal detectors and what alternatives it considered.

Gill, speaking after the meeting, the models the district is looking at are less obtrusive than individual wanding and more high-tech and aesthetically pleasing.

"I think this board will ask all of those questions (Cook) posed tonight and we'll continue to develop a plan this board feels comfortable with," Gill said.

If approved by the board, the metal detectors could be installed by the fourth quarter, Gill said, which begins March 28.

The issue got traction after Pierre V. Scott Jr., a Lanphier senior, was fatally stabbed outside of the high school on Nov. 17.

Remembering Deidre Silas

The board took a moment of silence to remember Deidre (Graham) Silas, an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services child protection specialist from Springfield, who was killed at a home in Thayer during a visit on Jan. 5.

Silas, who came to Springfield with her family as a child from Jamaica, attended Lincoln Elementary School, Grant Middle School and Springfield High School.

Silas' funeral is Saturday.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Springfield, IL, school officials confident in COVID-19 precautions

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