As school districts around the area cope with increasing cases of COVID-19 and consider the choice of moving to remote-learning, Hoopeston Area School District is committed to providing in-person instruction for as long as possible.

Hoopeston Area Superintendent Robert Richardson spoke on the issue during Thursday night’s Hoopeston Area Board of Education meeting, which was conducted virtually from John Greer Grade School.

Richardson said many other area schools are facing the same issues that Hoopeston Area School District faced several weeks ago: a rising number of positive cases in their districts.

Richardson said the district’s goal is to continue to offer in-person instruction for as long as it can.

“We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing for as long as we can,” he said.

Richardson said he’s often asked if there is a metric the district uses to determine when to go all-remote learning.

He said many different factors are considered and one of the most important is how many teachers are quarantined.

“It’s difficult for us to teach kids if we don’t have teachers for the classroom,” he said.

Richardson said the first and foremost factor when considering options for the district is the health and safety of the students and staff.

He said the district is in contact with the Vermilion County Health Department and are following the guidelines they provide.

Richardson said the district hopes that residents consider these guidelines over the Thanksgiving holiday so that the district doesn’t see another rise in positive cases after students return to school.

“We’re going to hope for the best and we’re going to hope that people are diligent,” he said.

Richardson expressed his and other educators’ frustration with COVID-19 and the havoc it has wrought when it comes to schools.

“I just wish it would leave,” he said. “I’ve had enough of it.”

That being said, Richardson commended his staff for weathering the storm that COVID-19 has brought with it.

“We’re getting by,” he said.

Richardson also touched on the subject of winter sports.

He said the district will follow whatever guidelines the state and IHSA decide upon.

Richardson also discussed how the district will handle plans for the next semester of school.

He informed the board that the district is in the process of coming up with a scheduling plan for the second semester.

Richardson said they are looking into holding a special board meeting in December to approve a scheduling plan for the second semester so they can provide as much information as possible to district residents.

Richardson suggested setting the meeting for Dec. 1 or Dec. 2 so that the district be able to provide district residents with the plan more than a month before the second semester of school would start.

Speaking later in the meeting, John Greer Principal Dan Walder commented on statistics related to COVID-19 cases in the district.

Since the beginning of the year, Walder said he’s had to put 54 students into a 14-day quarantine.

He said 50 percent of these students were quarantined because of exposure to a COVID-19 positive situation in school due to exposure to a classmate or staff member. The other 50 percent were quarantined due to exposure to a COVID-19 positive situation at home.

Of the students quarantined due to exposure at school, Walder said 37 percent were exposed due to contact with a staff member.

He said John Greer has only had one staff member who has tested positive.

Walder said the school has only had six positive cases of COVID-19 among the student population since school started this year and every one of them was exposed to COVID outside of school.

“Nobody that’s turned up positive has had exposure inside of school,” he said.

Walder told the board they could draw their own conclusions from that and pointed out that there will likely eventually be some spread within the school, but, at present, there has been no spread of COVID-19.

Even so, Walder said he was encouraged by the data and the statements from the Vermilion County Health Administrator Doug Toole that said that COVID-19, by and large, is not spreading inside of county school buildings.

“That is absolutely what we’re finding,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t change, but these are pretty safe places to be based on everything we are doing mitigation-wise and our community deserves to know that.”

In an unrelated discussion, Hoopeston Education Association President Dylan Swank announced a new initiative aimed at giving back to district staff and the Hoopeston community.

“The HEA wants to give back and show appreciation for our members and show appreciation for our community,” he said.

As a result of some reduced expenditures for the HEA this year and some strong and responsible fiscal planning over the course of the last decade, Swank said the HEA has a pretty large financial surplus.

“We feel please to announce tonight, in an effort to thank our members for the incredible challenges that they’ve helped our students overcome this school year and an effort to Hoopeston area businesses that are struggling with their own challenges,” he said. “The HEA is going to purchase gift cards for every single one of our members to Hoopeston-operated businesses that have been affected by this pandemic.”

Swank said they hope to commit approximately $3,000 to the local economy through this initiative.

“We really hope that some of these funds can help reduce some of the financial burden on our members around this holiday season and we hope, too, that these funds can support some of the incredible businesses owned and operated right here in Hoopeston,” he said. “HEA members are community members and we want to do everything we can to support not just our students, but also our hometown and we believe this initiative can help us do just that.”

Swank also discussed another initiative that will help teachers when it comes to remote learning.

Swank serves as the Illinois Education Association Region 8 Vice-Chairperson and said that region has had some reduced expenditures this last year since they haven’t had some of their “big ticket items.”

He said the IEA has been collecting dues and has established an initiative this year where they are going to reimburse members to attend professional development courses online.

Swank said these will be specifically related to virtual instruction and remote learning.

“When it comes to remote learning, I think we’re all learning as we go,” he said. “I think we’re doing a great job, but I think there are still tools out there that we can learn more about.”

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