BOURBONNAIS — The Bourbonnais Elementary School Board approved a 2020-21 calendar that brings students back to school Aug. 19 and dismisses them for summer May 27 during a special board meeting Wednesday.
The board also approved standard school day start and end times so that students will be attending school for full seven-hour days. Hours will be 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. for Shabbona and Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center, 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. for LeVasseur and Shepard, and 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. for Liberty Intermediate.
Superintendent Adam Ehrman, attending his first District 53 board meeting as superintendent, said the calendar and school hours decisions are critical for administrators to continue ironing out more details for next school year.
“We still have a lot of questions to answer, and we don’t have those answered at this time, but getting these solved tonight will help,” he said.
Board members tabled the decisions in June because new guidance from the state had been released just a few hours before their meeting.
The alternate calendar option would have pushed the start of the school year back until Sept. 8 and ended the school year June 8, 2021. Administrators previously thought that holding off starting the school year might afford the district greater chances of resuming in-person instruction.
Now that Illinois is in Phase 4, new state guidance says in-person instruction can resume with safety guidelines in place, such as enhanced cleaning efforts, social distancing, temperature checks and face masks.
Ehrman said that based on conversations with other local superintendents, he believes the August start date will align with calendar plans for Bradley Elementary School District 61 and Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School, though that is subject to change.
“The other school districts are suffering from the same thing we’re suffering from, which is that information keeps changing,” he said.
The staggered start and end times would have divided students into two groups to allow for social distancing on buses; however, new state guidance says buses can hold up to 50 as long as face masks are worn. The staggered times also would have meant a six-hour school day.
Ehrman said the goal is to make returning to school feel as normal as possible.
“We’re trying to balance the educational processes of having students engaged with their educators versus safety measures that they need to have in place,” he said.
Ehrman said the planning process also must account for a potential return to remote learning if there is a surge in cases and the state reverts back in its reopening phases.
“We have to literally build two airplanes at one time while everything is changing,” he said.
Current decision making cannot be done lightly, as moving forward into Phase 5 could be far off into the future, he added.
“The hard part is we may not be just building what COVID plan we are going to be implementing for the fall; it could be in place, some of these measures, for a long time until there’s a vaccination,” Ehrman said. “We want to be very balanced in the approach that we take so we don’t turn the educational process upside down completely.”
Board President Rob Rodewald said parents have been emailing questions about how the district will interpret and enforce the state’s guidelines. The face mask requirement for children who may be uncomfortable or unwilling to wear one is a common concern.
“A lot of that hasn’t been determined yet because guidance from the state changes daily, and sometimes two and three times a day,” Rodewald said. “The best we can do is give the guidance that we have right now and what we are going to expect, and that will, I can almost guarantee you, change before the first day of school on Aug. 19.”