Local school leaders weigh-in on COVID-19’s impact on the new school year

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – School districts are working to keep COVID-19 out of their buildings and keep students in.

Back in March, Peoria Public Schools returned to in-person learning after COVID-19 kept students out of the classroom for months. Five weeks into the 2021-2022 school year, staff said things are looking better.

“We’re in a much better place as a district and I think a lot of people would frankly agree with that as far as it is with COVID,” said Thomas Bruch, director of public relations at Peoria Public Schools.

Bruch said compared to March, COVID-19 cases within PPS are down.

He also explained there’s been fewer educational disruptions due to factors like a shift in COVID-19 distancing guidelines, the availability of vaccines, and Illinois’ ‘Test to Stay’ option.

Test to Stay allows students to avoid quarantine or exclusion by testing on days one, three, five, and seven after exposure as long as they continue to test negative. The tests can be given on site by a school nurse.

“It’s a lot easier, a lot more efficient, a lot more cohesive when kids are able to stay in the classroom,” Bruch said.

At District 87, superintendent Dr. Barry Reilly said by this point in time staff hoped for a little more normalcy.

“We’ve continued with COVID cases, we’ve continued with quarantines of student and staff as well and that creates some disruption,” Reilly said.

Although COVID-19’s presence, Reilly said the percentage of cases and quarantines isn’t necessarily higher than they were last school year, due to more students being in buildings. He also says there’s been some encouraging signs lately.

“We starting to see a little bit of decline in the last week or two. That’s good. Let’s hope that holds true,” Reilly said.

Reilly explained that his district is also looking to utilize the Test to Stay option.

“We believe that once we can get that rolling that will drastically reduce the number of kids that have to quarantine, because once they have to quarantine it’s for 10 days,” Reilly said.

By the beginning of 2022, he said he hopes what most know as a normal school year will be closer to a reality.

“I think the things that we’re putting in place will help us get there, and we’re hoping we’ll get there, very very soon,” Reilly said.

Reilly said about half of eligible students have been vaccinated. Bruch says PPS hasn’t compiled that data, but there has been fewer cases in the age group that can receive the vaccine.

Both school leaders say they are also keeping an eye on if there will be authorization for younger children.

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