ST. CHARLES – The head of District 303 teacher's union is voicing concerns about how safe staff members and students will be when in-person learning starts next month.
"I come to you today as we are now just two weeks away from students returning to school," St. Charles Education Association President Joe Blomquist said in recorded comments that members of St. Charles School District 303's Citizen Advisory Committee listened to during their Zoom meeting Wednesday. "I know many individuals in the community are anxious to get the school year started and as staff, we are too. We are also anxious about so much more."
Students are set to return to school on Aug. 13. Blomquist voiced concerns that the school board is placing more of an emphasis on learning gaps than the health and safety of the students.
"We are anxious because the message from the school board seems to be focused on testing for learning gaps as soon as we return and less so about addressing the critical matters of health, safety, well-being and belonging that the Illinois State Board of Education has said needs to be at the forefront of our return," Blomquist said.
He also said staff is anxious about returning to school "because a large amount of staff are finding out now, with just two weeks before students arrive, that their positions are drastically changing to meet the needs of opening our schools to students again."
At-risk staff members also have concerns about returning to the classroom.
"Many more of our high-risk staff members are still awaiting news whether they will have to choose between getting paid or preserving their life altogether," Blomquist said.
Blomquist said many of their concerns are centered around the 30-minute lunch periods for staff members.
'When we wear masks for six hours in the day and we maintain our social distance, but then we remove those masks for those 30 minutes, we have threatened the protections we have put in place for the entire day," he said. "One simple cough or sneeze can travel 10 feet or more when masks are not on and yet everyday, at all of our schools, we are planning on having teachers and staff standing in a classroom with masks off and mouths open wide to eat and drink their meals. This has been a concern we have expressed from the start and we have even brought options to the table to resolve it. Something has to be done to address this and soon."
He said many more issues also need to be addressed, including how highly populated areas will be cleaned, the traffic flow during passing periods and expectations for small group work and interventions. He called on the district's plans to be refined.
"School cannot function if the adults in the building are not well enough to be there, to drive the students, to teach the students and support the students," Blomquist said. "If you are thinking that our current plan is likely to result in even one student or one staff member being put on a ventilator or worse, than that is a sign that this plan needs to be rethought."
To accommodate families who believe that an online option is best for their child, full remote learning will be offered on a semester by semester basis. The district is also offering in-person learning and a hybrid of the two.
Elementary school students will receive in-person learning while middle school and high school students will receive a blend of in-person and remote learning when they return to school next month.