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  • Fairbury News staff

Reopening plan approved

Members of the P.C. school board during Monday's meeting at the First Baptist Church in Fairbury.

The Prairie Central Board of Education approved the 2021-22 reopening plan during a special meeting held Monday evening at the First Baptist Church in Fairbury.

Masks will be required in all Prairie Central schools in accordance with the state mandate. Superintendent Paula Crane presented some revisions due to previous concerns raised, which include allowing visitors in schools as long as they are masked. School days through Labor Day include a two-hour early release for the heat while still offering lunch to students. Additional early dismissals past Labor Day are possible based on the weather. Also, extended mask breaks will be given when students are stationary.

“Nonessential visitors, volunteers and external groups or organizations are discouraged from visiting schools, however will be allowed to visit while wearing a mask,” the plan states. “This will exclude activities where masks are not worn, such as during lunches.”

The document approved Monday outlines plans if there is no state mask mandate, such as when community transmission rates are at certain levels. If there is a “minimum” level, mask use is highly recommended indoors for students, staff and visitors and recommended outdoors during activities. Testing is available to anyone who chooses the regular testing program. During a “substantial” or “moderate” transmission, mask use is highly recommended along with testing and vaccination at appropriate age levels.

Parents will be asked to make a choice at the start of the year between masking, a weekly testing program or vaccination if age appropriate. Parents may choose a minimum of one of these options.

“I know it is extremely important for kids to be in school every day,” said Superintendent Crane. “My goal and my job is to have our schools open as safely as possible.”

Several members of the public want the board to fight the state mask mandate but board president Mark Slagel opened the meeting by reminding the audience that the Illinois State Board of Education is appointed by the governor and has authority to withhold funds or take away accreditation. This could mean no more participation in IHSA events.

“We just have nowhere else to turn,” Slagel explained.

Crane agreed the board is not in a position to fight a mandate. She hopes the school can move forward in a positive way.

During a lengthy public comment session, local attorney Will Gerber said his e-mail inbox has been flooded with questions about the mask issue and that he disagrees with the governor’s executive order. He pointed to the high COVID-19 survival rates and said the board and superintendent are in an extremely bad position.

“In my opinion, as of today, this school board has 100 percent authority to implement appropriate policy they feel best fits kids in the district,” stated Gerber.

Board member Tim McGreal asked what the board is supposed to do as it risks the loss of IHSA with seniors possibly missing sports in the short term if the district fights the mask mandate. Gerber said the school would still be able to operate as usual while the litigation is pending.

Amanda Kester once again appeared before the group, saying kids can be safe with other mitigations such as distancing, hand washing and proper ventilation.

“I think kids are definitely still low risk.”

Jodi Popejoy encouraged the board to make masks optional as she expressed health concerns over face coverings.

“I want to know who’s liable when something happens to one of these kids with a mask on,” said Popejoy.

Longtime teacher Kelly Honegger, who left the profession after many years, explained the many obstacles she faced as a teacher including not seeing students smile because of masks. Honegger said she relied on those “little smiles” to get through the day.

Board member John Wilken acknowledged certain aspects of the reopening plan could be open to interpretation. If the metrics turn around and things change, McGreal said he is open to move to mask optional after seeing how the plan goes.

Member Brian Plenert feared defaulting back to the plan which was in place last school year if the board had not approved the new plan Monday.

“Do you want to go back to the way it was last year?” he asked.

The regular August meeting of the Prairie Central Board of Education is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Prairie Central High School library, 411 North Seventh Street in Fairbury. A transportation committee meeting will be held prior to the full board meeting in the same location at 6 p.m.

Here is a link to the district's 2021-22 reopening plan:

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