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Rock Island-Milan Schools parents concerned about Return to Learn survey
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Rock Island-Milan Schools parents concerned about Return to Learn survey

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Rock Island-Milan officials recently pushed back a decision to open the school year remotely in favor of gaining further stakeholder input. Now, some parents are saying the district survey is too limited and doesn’t address their concerns.

School districts nationwide are making Return to Learn plans following COVID-19 closures. Locally, United Township High School has announced it will resume school with a blended model that will see students learning both remotely and on campus, as well as a 100% online option for those who do not want to resume in-person learning.

Both UTHS and Rock Island-Milan school year’s typically start in early August, with both districts taking intersession breaks. Most other local districts have a bit more time to develop reopening plans because of later start dates.

Rock Island-Milan board members opted June 30 not to approve a plan that would have opened the year remotely and then move to a blended model after Labor Day. Following that meeting, the district launched a new survey. Communications Director Holly Sparkman said a tentative special board meeting was planned for July 15.

Administrators said delaying in-person instruction would allow the district to obtain necessary safety supplies, including face coverings and plastic shields, as well as develop plans to meet Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.

The surveys, which are available on rimsd41.org through 5 p.m. July 13, ask for input from students, parents/guardians and staff.

The parent survey asks if they would send their child back to school under current state guidelines. It also asks parents if they would support adjusting the start date for the year to Aug. 14, with dates made up over the fall intersession; or if they support pushing the start date to Sept. 8. In the latter, those 25 days would be made up over fall and March intersession and extend the school year into June.

Parents also have the option to indicate they would not support a calendar change, which would mean staff would report to work July 30 and July 31 and students would begin Aug. 3.

Parent Jennie Newberry said she was confused about the survey’s limited scope and said she wished it addressed remote learning options for parents who are uncomfortable sending their children. She said the survey also did not address the possibility of a blended model of in-person and remote instruction and it did not explain the reasons for considering modifying the start date.

“Since none of us know what the future holds during this pandemic, I feel this left more questions than answers to be had by the types of questions being asked in the surveys,” Newberry said.

Newberry is not the only one to have concerns. Some parents took to the Facebook pages of school board members and other sites to share their concerns about how the survey did not allow for input on certain topics or allow for an additional comments section.

Sparkman said she thought people might have expected a more comprehensive survey, but the scope was limited to allow the district enough time to gather results and draft a new recommendation for the board to vote on this week (a meeting is tentatively set for July 15). Sparkman said the district would support any family with remote learning if they did not wish to return to in-person learning.

Newberry said she was happy the board delayed its decision on June 30.

“Many parents, myself included, didn’t receive a survey at all prior to the very limited one sent in the days following,” she said. “I just want some clarity, and clear-cut communication, so we know our options moving forward into this unknown territory.”

Parent Mindy Mathews said the current survey was the only one she received about the start of the 2020-2021 school year. School board member Terell Williams said at the June 30 board meeting that he only took the prior survey because he happened to see it promoted on the Washington Junior High School Facebook page. He said as a parent he did not get a “Remind” message, the communication platform used by the district, from his children’s schools.

Superintendent Reginald Lawrence said at that meeting the district would quickly translate the survey for families and push it out across every medium possible.

“If you don’t get it this time, I want to hear from you,” Lawrence said.

Sparkman said the previous remote learning survey ran from May 18 through early June and was distributed through email, social media, Google Classroom, Remind and other channels.

Like Newberry, Mathews said she wanted more options presented in the current survey.

“There was no mention of any alternative learning being offered such as remote learning, alternating student schedules, etc.,” Mathews said. “I thought the precautions that were in the survey were very minimal and wouldn’t protect the students if there was an exposure. And, there was no mention as to how positive cases and exposure tracking would be handled.”

Rock Island Education Association President Andrew Hains said he could not comment on the district’s survey because it still was open for survey responses.

“The RIEA is surveying members on several items that we hope will inform our collaboration with central administration,” he said. “The RIEA seeks to represent our membership about health and safety, learning models during the pandemic, calendar issues, and child care.”

Hains told board members at the previous board meeting that the 400-plus members of the union and the union leaders were surprised to see the administrative recommendation move forward for board approval without RIEA input. He called for collaboration.

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