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PPS Board OKs Classroom Return Plan For Grades 2-4

Peoria Public Schools District 150
The Peoria Public Schools board of education voted Monday to bring students in grades 2-4 back to the classroom in late October.

The second phase of Peoria Public Schools’ return plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic will bring students in grades 2-4 back to the classrooms starting Oct. 26.

The board of education gave unanimous consent to District 150 Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat’s updated return-to-school proposal during a special meeting Monday night. Administrators are expected to begin notifying parents on Tuesday.

“Our goal really is to maximize in-person learning to our students in as safe an environment as possible,” said Kherat.

Last Wednesday, the district announced kindergarten and first-grade students would return to in-person instruction beginning Oct. 5, and self-contained special needs students would go back starting Oct. 12. At last week’s board meeting, Doug Walther recommended extending the phase 1 plan to include grades 2-4, but others did not want to rush the plan.

Kherat pointed to benchmark targets for a safe return to schools of a 5% seven-day positivity rate and  fewer than 150 cases per 100,000 people. She showed Peoria County at 6.5% positivity and 152 cases per 100,000 as of Sept. 18. But she said K-8 students account for just 4% of Peoria County cases.

Kherat said the district’s A/B hybrid scheduling plan will keep the number of students in each classroom well below 20.

“It allows obviously for the physical distancing,” she told the board Monday night. “Along with that, our buildings and grounds (staff), they have a robust daily cleaning plan for classrooms. And then the symptoms screening will be heavily enforced.

“So students and staff will not be allowed to attend in person for any reason if they have a fever that is 104 or higher, a headache, shortness of breath, cough and sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, loss of smell and taste and those sorts of things.”

Renaming schools

In another matter, a process to rename six school buildings that was initiated last month by board vice president Gregory Wilson will proceed, but without a specified timeline.

“There is a lot involved in making these changes,” said board member Lynne Costic, who suggested undertaking one or two facilities at a time. “The fact is that we’re definitely not trying to negate doing it. It’s just that, you don’t want to get into something and make decisions and those decisions be incorrect.”

Initially, Wilson proposed moving names from six schools that honor men with connections to slavery and racism: Thomas Jefferson Primary School, Washington Gifted School, Charles Lindbergh Middle School, Calvin Coolidge Middle School, Roosevelt Magnet School, and the Harrison Community Learning Center.

The board voted 6-1 to move forward with the process, sending the issue back to the district’s building committee. Walther, who serves along with Costic on the committee, removed the item from the consent agenda and cast the dissenting vote.

“I thought this was too big of an issue just to be part of the consent agenda,” said Walther. “We felt that because of both the controversy and the scope of this that the full board needed to have that discussion, if this is what we wanted to pursue.”

Walther noted he was on the building committee two years ago during the process to rename Woodrow Wilson Primary School in honor of Dr. Maude A. Sanders. He said that process took a full year.

“We had public hearings on that school,” he said. “We got input from the public, and we got input from parents and teachers before we made a decision on that.

“We’ve got six schools here, and I think to do justice of that we have to understand that if we’re going to do that, I don’t think it should be short [shrift] of any of those schools.”

Wilson said he understands it would be difficult to proceed with renaming all six buildings at once. He said he had no set timetable for the new names and deferred leadership to the building committee.

Board member Anni Reinking read a prepared statement in support of renaming the buildings, stressing the words were not hers, but neglecting to identify who did write the statement.

Other action

Board member Martha Ross motioned to table an item on adopting a firearms policy for security personnel, noting the action never came through the policy committee. The motion passed on a 6-1 vote with Walther opposed. The board also unanimously approved a suspension for Peoria High School teacher Holly Duke.

Early in the meeting, Kherat announced the death over the weekend of Richwoods High School visual arts teacher and baseball coach Doug Goessman, who was diagnosed with a rare liver disease last month.

“During his 14 years at Richwoods, he touched the lives of countless students in the classroom and on the baseball field. He will be truly missed by his students, players and colleagues at Richwoods,” Kherat said before the board observed a moment of silence in Goessman’s honor.

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