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Teachers Decry Lack of Input Into Dunlap's Proposed Return To School Guidance

Tim Shelley

The Dunlap school board approved guidance for the 2021-22 school year - with the caveat it's still subject to change.

Several teachers spoke during the public comment portion of Wednesday night's meeting, concerned a section of the plan requiring livestreaming classroom lessons for the benefit of medically fragile middle and high schools students would be less than ideal for those students' engagement - and potentially violate student privacy.

But Matt Andrews, Dunlap's assistant director of curriculum and instruction, said that stream would only be available to students, and wouldn't be invasive. The camera would focus on teachers. They would have the power to pause or turn it off if there was a need to end a broadcast, such as student discipline.

"Not all, and definitely not all the time," said Andrews of which classrooms would need to stream lessons, and for how long. "When you talk about quarantining, that's a different story. But that wouldn't be all the time. Quarantining, that's temporary."

Dunlap's back-to-school guidance also recommends making masks optional for students and staff at all grade levels. But the Illinois State Board of Education said local school boards don't have leeway to decide that.

"Local boards of education do not have authority to make masks optional," said ISBE spokesperson Jackie Matthews.

School board members debated whether to require masking for summer school, before ultimately deciding the current masking rules had the power of a mandate, not just guidance.

The state board of education hasn't yet released its guidance for the upcoming school year.

“It is up in the air unfortunately, and it's up in the air because we are still undergoing major transitions around spread and around vaccinations," said Beth Crider, Peoria County's Regional Superintendent of Schools.

“Masking will obviously at this point be required for 12 and under because they're not vaccine eligible. So 12 and under for sure, until the vaccine becomes available to that group. When you get above that group, now it becomes a challenge," she said. "So if you are vaccinated, can you do without masks or not? We're still waiting for firm guidance on that.”

Dearman said the plan is subject to change. Some aspects of the plan will likely be left to local decision-making, while others will be mandated by the state, he said.

Members of the Dunlap Education Association teachers' union said they saw the plan for the first time on Friday. Superintendent Dr. Scott Dearman said DEA leadership was invited to planning sessions, but declined to attend due to scheduling conflicts. Several board members suggested finding a time that works for the teachers.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.
Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.