Dunlap parents, students, staff concerned about ‘unsafe’ reopening, want more ‘time, clarity’

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – With classes starting Monday in the Dunlap School District, parents, students and staff members said they still have more concerns and questions than answers.

They said they want schools to open safely, but there needs to be more time and better communication with the district to do so.

Many parents and students expressed their concerns and spoke on behalf of staff members, Sunday at the District 323 office.

Chrissy Malson has two children in the district who will be attending school remotely. She said the district is pushing for haste reopening and that’s putting children and staff at risk.

“The school is rushing to open and not protecting our staff,” Malson said. “Teachers are so busy trying to figure out the logistics of safety that they haven’t even started lesson planning.”

The school board decided to resume full days of in-person instruction on July 31 after previously presenting the option of a condensed schedule and remote learning. Malson said the sudden decision has created chaos for all involved and said parents are nearly pleading to get any answers.

“Principals, counselors, secretaries, and building administrators have been scrambling to put together a plan of what this new academic curriculum and remote learning was going to look like with almost no communication to parents about what the plan is going to be,” Malson said.

Dr. Abby Humbles, the school board president, said the decision was made after sending out a survey to parents asking which method they preferred. She said the majority opted to return to in-class learning five days a week.

Sapna Appel is another mother in the district who said the lines of communication between the district and parents have been virtually erased.

“My biggest concern is not with the decision, but rather how it’s been made,” Appel said. “The lack of transparency and flexibility on behalf of the board is concerning. Our emails go unanswered and right now there’s so much lack of details and lack of time given for the reopening tomorrow.”

Parents said their concern for staff members is also weighing heavy on them.

Malson said teachers have reached out to her worried about safety, lack of PPE, unclear schedules, and having understaffed classrooms due to numerous staff members already finding themselves in quarantine in different schools.

“We have learned that my son doesn’t have a teacher for three of his classes,” Malson said. “We know that some of the buildings don’t even have nurses to take care of those students if they do show symptoms.”

Superintendent Scott Dearman released a video Friday addressing some concerns.

“We all have the same interests, we want to do what’s best for kids, we want to keep kids as safe as humanly possible,” Dearman said. “We have a blocked schedule, we have no lockers, we have hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, disinfectant wipes. All of those things in place and we’re just trying to limit that contact type.”

Lauren Rainey and Kirti Reddy are two seniors at Dunlap high who said they wanted to choose remote learning but were essentially forced to return to school because many of their core classes weren’t offered online anymore.

“We were basically almost blindsided in a sense,” Rainey said. “I just got my schedule finalized yesterday. We had to do quite a bit of rearranging so we’re still kind of unprepared and unshaken.”

“If the teachers are unprepared for tomorrow, what kind of education will students be getting,” Reddy asked.

Rainey and Reddy said they were also concerned about crowded hallways and classrooms. Dearman also addressed those concerns in the same video saying they’re going to do their best to prevent those situations but crowded hallways are to be expected.

“We can meet the world health order of three feet but we can’t do six feet in every classroom at every time,” Dearman said. “We’re going to do it to the greatest extend possible.”

Dr. Humbles issued a written response to safety concerns.

“I understand some staff and parents have safety concerns,” Humbles wrote. “This is why we worked so hard to offer options. Teachers with compromised immune issues may teach remotely. Students and parents have the same option to choose remote instruction.”

Humbles also wrote they may have to change their approach if the Illinois Department of Health determines it’s unsafe for them to be at school.

Parents overall said the issue isn’t remote versus in-person learning. They said they want more days to plan a safe reentry for staff and students and better communication between the district and parents.

“Really what we’ve always wanted is a delay,” Shital Shah said. “I know teachers have been working significantly over time. The staff has been working a lot of hours.”

“We haven’t had a forum where we can air our concerns and get our questions answered form anyone,” Teri Rainey said. “My hope is that they consider listening to their teachers many who feel very ill-prepared to open our building and receive students tomorrow.”

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