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Kaneland parents speak out at school board meeting as district looks ahead to staffing plans for 2021-22 school year

MAPLE PARK – Sugar Grove resident Kim Harner reiterated that she and members of her Facebook group pushing for full-time in-person learning “love” the district’s teachers, as small applause broke out in the audience at the Kaneland school board meeting March 8.

Harner then talked about her son’s learning experience during January as part of the public comment portion of the meeting.

“My son … he’s in that category who had to quarantine the entire month of January. My husband got COVID. I got COVID. Then, just to be safe, then there’s that 14-day window, so we were out of school for 28 days. And what did we get? A lot of packets,” Harner said, referencing gratitude for her son’s teacher who apparently personally dropped off the packets to their home.

Shortly after, she enrolled her son at Aurora Christian.

“In two days, he was enrolled there,” Harner said. “He was OK with a new teacher. He was happy to be in school full time. He’s a happy child. Before that, he was actually asking me, ‘Mommy, why don’t you love me anymore?’ He was getting depressed. This is a 7-year-old.”

Harner was one of many parents attending the meeting to advocate for full-time in-person learning for the remainder of the school year and next year. It was the second consecutive meeting in which a large group of parents detailed their experiences and had questions and concerns about the current hybrid learning model.

Harner’s Facebook group, Kaneland Go Forward – Parents United, previously had submitted a petition advocating returning to full-time, in-person learning by April 5.

Kaneland Superintendent Todd Leden reported a “number of staff” will be getting the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Leden also talked about his March 8 meeting with the Kane County Health Department in which they reviewed the new guidance that allows 20% capacity at an outdoor venue for events. The Illinois High School Association announced the change regarding outdoor sporting events earlier in the day March 8.

“We also did hear that [the IDPH is] hoping by the end of the week to have new guidance that would be directly related to students returning to school,” Leden said. “I don’t know if it’s something that’s going to change for this year. I don’t know if it’s guidance for next year. But they did say they believe it is something that will be helpful for districts planning for students to return to school.”

There are several variables for the district to consider regarding a return to full-time in-person learning. Among the considerations are staffing requirements for classes, ability to space students apart by 6 feet in a classroom and possible safety barriers.

Board member Meg Junk said, “If [IDPH] comes out Friday and says ‘three feet, two [feet of spacing], whatever, are we able to pivot this year and make that happen?”

“Based on the information that we learn, based on the preliminary plans that we’ve put together to assess those kinds of questions, my recommendation would be that we’d have to look at that, determine that, and then bring that to the board for conversation,” Leden responded.

“Yes … we have the plans,” Leden continued. “We could put them in place. But, because of the plans, there would be infrastructure, there would be financial, there would be implications that the board would need to hear from us for approval of any recommendations that we have.”

The board voted to unanimously pass a resolution that approved the presented minimum staffing plan for certificated staff for the 2021-22 school year with the exception of a specific COVID-19 contingency staffing component that asks for $725,000 to pay for an unspecified number of long-term substitute teachers, a temporary full-time teacher and a long-term substitute for a paraprofessional. The minimum staffing plan was presented in the context of a five-day-a-week, in-person learning environment.

“I don’t feel like an additional $725,000 is part of a ‘minimum plan’ that seems to be part of Plan B, C, or D,” board member Ryan Kerry said. “Personally, I don’t believe that this should be in there right now.”

Asked why the figure couldn’t be requested later, Human Resources Director Chris Adkins said the money helps with “expediency” in regard to teacher candidate talent pools, posting positions, hiring teachers and more logistical procedures.

“We do those things as quickly as humanly possible,” Adkins said. “At the same time, what I wouldn’t want to do is create a barrier to starting that process. I recognize that [the COVID contingency] is a Plan B. But it’s one that, when we look at the sum total of what we do know, we know how it worked this year when we were required to do some sort of in-person hybrid [learning] with a remote.

“It’s the base component that I can bring to the board to say, ‘If it looks kind of like this, this is kind of what we’ll need,’ ’’ Adkins continued. “I understand that we don’t know that we need it yet, and if we don’t need it, it wouldn’t be spent.”

Board President Shana Sparber clarified her reservations, saying “it’s not that it wouldn’t be spent to me, it’s how it would be spent.”

“We’re all under the assumption that we’re planning on a five-day ‘kids back in school’ staffing plan next year,” Kerry said. “This is a whole different plan that we don’t have details. I know you don’t know the details because you don’t know what the rules are going to be to make the plan. So I would much rather wait on this portion of your request until we have a better idea of what those rules are going to be.”

At the elementary school level, the district reports a flat staffing projection. It expects a decrease of two sections in first grade, but an increase of two sections in third grade.

At the middle school level, the district is projecting to be down two full-time equivalency staffing positions for next year because of smaller class sizes and students who use individualized education plans moving through the grade levels.

At the high school level, Adkins said the district has “a lot more of our fractional FTEs.”

“That’s because we have kids registered for classes. We might need 10 Algebra Two classes one year and then 13 the next year. And that may not be an actual full FTE but a portion of an FTE,” Adkins said. “Overall, [high school administration] will need that 1.3 FTE at the high school.

“At the beginning of this, I said that we would increase our FTE by 0.7 because that other fractional FTE is covered internally with teachers shifting what they’re teaching,” Adkins continued. “So, for example, you might have a multiple-certified teacher who teaches a science and a math class who is going to teach all science next year.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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