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Plans Vary as Schools Reopen

Rich Egger/file photo
John Meixner in his office in downtown Macomb

School districts around western Illinois are taking a variety of approaches to holding classes as the new school year gets underway. A regional school superintendent said that demonstrates the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is something no one has ever dealt with, and our school leaders are being put in no-win situations. No matter what decision they make, there is going to be a sector of their community that is going to be very opposed to their decision. And some of it’s been very vitriol,” said John Meixner, Regional Superintendent of Schools for Fulton, Hancock, McDonough, and Schuyler counties.

He urged people to be open-minded and understanding as school districts try to work through a difficult situation.

“The superintendents are doing the best they can. People should understand we’re not experts at this because no one is,” he said.

Meixner said some districts in his region are holding classes entirely in person while others are holding classes entirely online. He said some are using a hybrid model in which students go to school on some days and get online instruction on other days. He said in some cases students are attending classes in-person during the morning before going home for lunch and remote learning in the afternoon.

Meixner said rural districts with smaller enrollments might be more likely to hold in-person classes than larger districts that must manage more children. “There are a lot of variables to keep in mind when you’re talking about who is back and how they’re doing.”

He also said school districts are contending with shortages of substitute teachers and paraprofessionals, while parents are finding it difficult to secure daycare services.

Meixner said his office has no authority to tell districts what to do. He said the Regional Office of Education is available to provide input and assistance to schools that request it.

He said the ROE is also helping districts such as Macomb 185 manage Edgenuity, which he said is a full online learning program.

“We’ve been using that for a lot of our alternative schools. We have staff that are very well versed in Edgenuity so the Macomb School District has reached out to us to help manage that for them,” Meixner said.

He estimated Macomb has 150 or more students in grades 6-12 that are being taught entirely online through the program.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.