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EYE ON ILLINOIS: Parents, families need answers to school questions as quickly as possible

Seven and a half weeks.

That’s the time left before my oldest kid starts his junior year of high school. The younger three return soon after. As with any family, we’re anxious about the unknowns — and that’s with our privileges: parents can work from home, kids can walk to school and special needs are entirely manageable.

The Illinois State Board of Education met Wednesday, and although state Superintendent Carmen Ayala predictably announced face masks or shields “are required at all times with students and staff,” families and school staff members don’t have any other hard guidelines for education in the time of coronavirus.

What we do have are mostly painful memories of finishing the last school year with Chromebooks, iPads and openly wondering how long this was truly sustainable. 

This was an incredibly difficult situation, and although it’s obvious faculty and administration couldn’t be expected to fully reimagine delivering education in a manner of days, even families sympathetic to the challenges are entitled to just be upset at trying circumstances wholly beyond control.

It’s not that we won’t cooperate. Our kids wear masks. We kept them from friends, relatives and activities until Illinois reached phase three. We’re still cautious, following the advice of scientists and health professionals because we want to keep ourselves healthy and contribute to a safe community.

And yet, we need answers. Will the kids go every day? Will they be split up into rotations for in-class and at-home learning? Will the cafeteria change? Will there be a chorus or orchestra or theater or football games?

Will nurses take kids’ temperature upon entering the building? How would that policy play statewide? In January the ISBE said there were only 900 certified school nurses for more than 4,100 schools across 850 districts.

Will employers grant sick leave to parents with children too ill to attend school, or are we going to keep making families choose between income and health? Can pediatricians manage the increase in sick visits for strep throat, pink eye and influenza? Those questions aren’t the ISBE’s direct responsibility, but society didn’t do the best job accounting for these connective issues before the pandemic, making it that much more important to find good answers while the virus remains largely uncontrollable. 

Oh, and what happens when a student or staff member tests positive?

Officials are pursuing solutions. They clearly know the deadline, understand we pay a lot for education and want kids in the classroom as much as anyone. They’ve said good things about local control and cautioned about families rejecting public health directives.

The situation is fluid. There are conflicting priorities. Those seven and a half weeks aren’t nearly enough time to deliver satisfaction for everyone.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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