Education & Agriculture
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    The Carlyle School District Board of Education voted 6-1 for the district's return-to-school plan for 2021-22, at their July 21 meeting.
    Superintendent Annie Gray outlined the plan so that anyone in the audience —parents,  students, community members — could gauge what the plan spelled out and if they wished to address parts of that plan.
    The plan was a collaboration between Gray, district administrators, the Clinton County Health Department, and information she gathered from other area superintendents.
    The 10-part plan addresses COVID-19 mitigations — mask usage and physical distancing; contact tracing, along with isolation and quarantines; disabilities and other health care needs; cleaning and disinfecting;  vaccination status; and miscellaneous items.
    Gray said through last year "we learned a lot; some things good, some things bad."
    But looking back, the district's staff and students were able to have full in-person instruction, "for those who chose, for just over 70% of the school year," Gray said.
    She said that was something to be proud of.
    It's your choice
    Students return to school Aug. 16, with teachers reporting  Aug. 12.
    The district will be returning to its normal, pre-pandemic schedule of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, with doors opening  at all three buildings at 7:30 a.m.
    Vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear face masks.
    Masks are recommended, and even encouraged, but not required for those who are not vaccinated.
    Gray said staff and students "will be supported based on their personal choice." 
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Transportation are requiring people riding school buses to wear masks.
    But with the potential for change in the state's health status — an increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate — mask requirements could be implemented at a later date.
    Board President Aaron Heinzmann said he realized the plan would have to be amended  as more health information is received.

    Stating their views
    Before the vote, Heinzmann asked board members to share their position on the plan with the public.
    Heinzmann said that, with only 345 reported deaths among youth during the pandemic, it suggests the risk among children is exceedingly low "and the compromise that we've made for education is greater than that."
    Thus, he supports the resolution.
    Heinzmann said he has "full faith" in Gray's conversations with the county health department, and in district nurse Chrissa Boatright and the medical professionals she talks to.
    Heinzmann said he fully supports parents' choices and making mitigations optional. "You, as a parent, should get to choose that. And protecting our safety is not limited to just health — it's mental health, it's school health."
    He said if a parent chooses to send their child to school with a mask, "That's perfectly fine by me ... as long as you also allow me that freedom to send my child to school without one."
    Heinzmann is not in favor of asking for a person's vaccination status, and is against COVID-19 testing at school, should it become recommended.
    He doesn't believe the district has the staff to do that, adding that their job is to educate, and not be health care professionals, or be responsible for the chain of custody of COVID-19 tests.
    Heinzmann realizes there may be some changes, but he is pleased with what the district has as far as a plan.
    Board member Brooke Myers, who has a first-grader in the district, said she doesn't "take any of these decisions lightly, nor do I think that I have any type of authority to make decisions for your kids."
    Myers said she is for parent choice, and feels parents are capable of determining that.
    "I don't want you guys to tell me what I've got to wrap my kid in to come to school, and I don't want to tell you that," she said.
    She said she understands "making your kid feel safe; I understand wanting your kid not to struggle with mental health."
    Board member Keith Alexander said it's time "we try to get back to as much normalcy as possible, with our children and being in school."
    He said there will be certain precautions that need to be taken, but he wants the kids to be "as normal as we can possibly make it" within the restrictions the district has to work with.
    Board member Dennis Perez, who has been in public safety for 25 years, said it was heartbreaking for him to pick up his six-year-old girl, with her having to wear a mask and maintain a social distance from her classmates, especially during lunchtime.
    He said he doesn't make any safety decisions lightly and, while he's no health care professional, he has reached out to those in the profession — they are in his family, too — which is why he supports the district's policy.
    He said if you want to bring your child to school in a mask, that is fine. But his daughter won't be wearing one to school this year.
    He did take a step back to listen to her once: she said if she had to wear a mask to see her friends at school, she was fine with wearing a mask.
    Board member Keith Rensing, who cast the lone no vote, said he respects those on both sides of the table.
    He said there will be new guidance and verbiage between now and Aug. 16 and "this conversation might be all for naught."
    Rensing said his concern is liability; facing something like the pandemic, he said the district could be held liable, and the board members could be held personally liable.
    He referenced a person in the audience who said it can't be proven a child was infected with COVID-19 at school.
    "Absolutely right. But when your insurance company doesn't cover you, somebody's got to pay for the attorneys to represent you."  
     Rensing said he sees both "sides of the argument, but everybody has to make decisions that are best for themselves."
    Board member Dena Brammeier said no one knows their child better than their parents, which is why she feels the parents should be making those decisions, whether it's going with or without masks, or doing remote learning.
    "In this country we're given freedoms and rights, and I just think that that's your choice as a parent," she said.
    And board member Jim Golder, in only his second school board meeting, said serving in that capacity is a tough job.
    He said he's got two daughters entering high school this year, which got him involved in the school district.
    To sum it up, he said, "It's your child, it's your body, it's your choice."
    Pending changes
    Someone in the audience asked, since the plan was voted on that night, would it have to be voted on again to be changed?
    Heinzmann said last year their plan had wording that allowed Gray to “make adjustments according to how they felt necessary.”
    And while board members may not have agreed on items in the plan, Gray did consult with them on those areas, Heinzmann said.
    Gray said if anything major with the plan were to change — say, if wearing masks were to become required — then she would want that to come back before the board of education.
    If there were a minor item, then the resolution allows Gray and district administrators “to make those adjustments.”
    Student meals — breakfast and lunch — will remain free for all students this school year.
    An “ala carte” option will return to the high school and junior high, a change from last year. That will include a fee, Gray said.
    There will be no COVID-19 testing done at the school, Gray said, leaving that up to the county health department.
    Extracurricular events and athletics will continue as normal, but could change based on directives from the Illinois High School Association or the Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association.
    Gray is hopeful that will mean fans in the stands and fees will return to those activities.

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