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Lawrence: Strongly encourage mask-wearing in Rock Island schools
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Lawrence: Strongly encourage mask-wearing in Rock Island schools

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Just days before students are due to return to classrooms for the new school year, more than 150 Rock Island-Milan stakeholders tuned in to a virtual forum Wednesday to pose questions about the district’s masking, distancing and quarantine policies.

Superintendent Reginald Lawrence fielded questions during the hourlong session, with many questions focused on the district’s health and safety plans for mitigating COVID-19 exposure. Rock Island-Milan is among the earliest in the region to start the new school year, with staff reporting to work starting July 29 and students returning to classrooms Monday, Aug. 2.

Earlier this week, Lawrence said the district would require masks for all elementary students. Masks at the junior highs and high school will be strongly recommended but not required. During Wednesday’s forum, Lawrence said unvaccinated staff at all grade levels would be strongly encouraged to wear a mask while inside district buildings.

As implemented last year, the district plans to continue temperature and symptom screenings, social distancing, extensive building cleaning and maintaining quarantine space at each school.

Lawrence said the bottom-line goal was keeping the district’s doors open to students year-round with these safety measures. He said he strongly encouraged mask-wearing and urged all those who could to get vaccinated.

“It is our goal to educate children all year. We hope we don’t run into those periods of high transmission and spread of COVID-19, like which impacted us the last year and a half,” Lawrence said. “The goal is to work with you to ensure our children stay in school all year.”

He told forum attendees the district is adhering to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The CDC on Tuesday updated its guidelines, calling for universal masking in schools. Additionally, Lawrence said, further guidance from the state may be soon forthcoming as the governor’s office often will make announcements Friday afternoons.

Lawrence reminded families that guidance on COVID-19 mitigations continues to be fluid and he urged patience. He said the district would continue monitoring metrics and would make adjustments to its safety plans as needed.

“We ask all our families, just be flexible and work with us as we get all of our students back in school five days per week full-time,” he said.

Some parents Wednesday wanted more information about how lunch times will work at the elementary level. Lawrence said students would be distanced as much as possible and students would resume mask-wearing when not eating.

Further, Lawrence said masks will not be required when students are outdoors for recess, gym or outdoor learning environments. He said mask breaks also would be encouraged.

Lawrence said vaccinated students did not have to quarantine under IDPH guidelines, but unvaccinated students will be subjected to quarantine time in the event contact tracing dictates that it is necessary. Lawrence said the district had access to the state’s vaccine record system, but families who wish to volunteer vaccination status are welcome to do so.

Per state guidelines, remote learning will only be made available for those with a medical home-bound need or those who are quarantining. That is a change from last school year when remote instruction was available by parent choice.

Several parents also posed questions about drop-off times, school supplies, scheduling and transportation concerns. District staff addressed some of these general questions during the forum and directed families to the district website for further details.

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