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Champaign Unit 4 Elementary Students Can Return To In-Person Instruction

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Champaign Unit 4 Superintendent Susan Zola speaks during a Unit 4 Board of Education meeting on Oct. 12, 2020.

CHAMPAIGN – Champaign Unit 4 elementary school students will have the option to return to some in-person instruction at the end of this month. 

Unit 4 officials unveiled plans this week to bring students back into classrooms for shortened school days. The first day of in-person instruction is scheduled for Oct. 27. 

Parents can still opt to stay in the remote learning model the district has been using since the beginning of the school year. But 38.5% of parents who responded to a recent survey say they want their kids back in the classroom. Unit 4 Superintendent Susan Zola says she hears from those families frequently.

“And they’re in tears. They’re just like this is what my family and my child needs right now for mental wellness, for mental health and wellness, they need to come back and see their teacher and be in their classroom,” she said during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting

Students who opt for in-person instruction will come to school for two-and-half hours Tuesday through Friday either in the morning or afternoon. All students will learn remotely on Mondays. Zola says they plan to bring students at the middle and high school levels back to classrooms in January.

Last week, Urbana District 116 officials opted to keep most elementary students in a remote learning model, after pushback from community members who feared bringing large numbers of children back into school buildings would lead to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

Unit 4 Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Organizational Effectiveness, Ken Kleber, told the district’s Board of Education on Monday that administrators have addressed health and safety concerns with teachers and teachers aid unions. He expects most staff members will return to classrooms. 

“We’re kind of working through some of the particulars as it relates to individual staff members or some of the specific protocols and things. But there’s nothing that I’m aware of that says we’re not having large numbers of people come back,” Kleber said.

Unit 4 officials say nurses will be trained to administer COVID-19 tests on-site to staff and students experiencing at least one symptom related to the coronavirus. Unit 4 officials say those tests will be processed by Carle Foundation Hospital. State public health guidelines require anyone experiencing a symptom of the virus to either get a COVID-19 test before coming back to school, a doctor’s note or remain out of school for 10 days.

The board signaled their approval of the plan, but did not vote on it. Board president Amy Armstrong explains that the board is not in charge of the district’s reopening plan, but rather that superintendents have the authority to make those decisions. 

“This work is yours… we do not make this plan, you would not want us, we are not teachers, we are not administrators,” Armstrong said.

Board member Chris Kloeppel acknowledged that not all families will be satisfied with the district’s plan.

“This is not going to be good enough for a group of our Unit 4 community, and it’s going to be just what some people need.”

Lee Gaines is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines

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Lee V. Gaines

Lee V. Gaines

Lee Gaines covers Education for the Illinois Newsroom. She started at Illinois Public Media in 2017 and her stories have been featured nationally on NPR. Prior to her work at IPM, Lee wrote for newspapers and magazines in Chicago and nationally. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, and the Marshall Project. She also recently completed a fellowship with the Education Writers Association. ➤ lvgaines@illinois.edu@LeeVGaines

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