(The Center Square) – Illinois’ playbook for the 2021-2022 school year was a throwback to in-person learning, with a limited number of students who would need distance learning. This has changed.
“With the directive to go back to in-person learning, everyone has prepared for it,” Thomas Bertrand, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, told The Center Square.
But as the number of COVID-19 cases increased, the playbook had to be changed. Children who have been identified as close contacts of someone with COVID-19 have been quarantined, dramatically increasing the number of children eligible to be distance learners.
Bertrand said the change in focus has caused hardship in local school districts.
“The districts were not prepared for this volume,” Bertrand said.
To compound the problem, there are no clear guidelines for school boards and school districts as to who should quarantine, he said.
“If the guidelines change with respect to what constitutes close contact and exposure – and how many cases constitute an epidemic in a school, those elements may affect the number of students who may be in quarantine,” Bertrand said.
School boards are looking for clarity, Bertrand noted.
“Whenever possible, the guidelines should be clear. It must be consistent. And it must remain the same, ”he said.
School board members cite the lack of consistency when it comes to local health service boards, Bertrand said.
“Some health services issue quarantine orders and some don’t,” he said. “Technically, by law, there has to be a quarantine order for a child to be quarantined and then be eligible for distance learning. “
Even the courts are not consistent, Bertrand said. At least two Illinois courts have said school districts do not have the power to quarantine students without a prescription, he said.
On September 17, Governor JB Pritzker issued a Executive Decree to clarify some of the quarantine questions.
According to the Illinois Association of School Boards, local school boards are in the best position to determine what should happen in their school districts.
“Local school districts and local school boards are in the best position to assess their own situations locally,” Berstand said. “We have a very diverse and very large state. Conditions vary across the state. This is why we are such an advocate for local control, because one size often does not fit all. “
Schools are doing their best despite these difficult and ever-changing times.
“There has certainly been a loss of local control during this pandemic. This in itself is very frustrating, ”said Bertrand. “In my 38 years in public education, this is – by far – such a difficult condition that I have never seen. It’s not even close to what could have been second.