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Local superintendent believes students are better off in classrooms than learning remotely

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VIENNA, IL (WSIL) -- As more school districts across the state shift to fully remote learning Vienna schools are sticking with plans to keep students in classrooms five days a week.

Superintendent Josh Stafford tells News 3 WSIL he's been keeping hard data on the impacts of COVID-19 and has been working closely with the health department.

Stafford says right now being in school--in a controlled environment--is the best option for his district.

"We have had minimal to zero school based spread of the coronavirus. In our four grade school buildings there have been students and teachers test positive. But it has been a very minimal number of students and teachers that have tested positive in those buildings. And the contacts that they've generated---no one has contracted the virus as a result of being in contact with a positive teacher or student. The same thing in our high school," Stafford said.

Stafford adds wearing masks and strict cleaning protocols inside the school have helped limit the impacts of COVID-19.

Earlier this week officials with the Jackson County Health Department said the choice between remote and in-person learning was complex.    

"Certainly from a virus transmission standpoint--it is safer to stay home and not be exposed to other people. But we know that decision to do remote learning does not come without other concerns as well," said administrator Bart Hagston.

Those other concerns include students losing out on social development with others at school.

Stafford argues going remote could put students more at risk because they may not have adult supervision and adhere to COVID-19 mitigations.

"We're fearful those students would be going into uncontrolled environments or you know possibly not have adult supervision or be out and about where maybe there isn't an adult--a responsible adult person--watching to ensure they're following the mitigations for the coronavirus which could potentially increase the spread outside of our school," Stafford said.

Hagston tells News 3 WSIL parents need to work to limit their kids interactions with others as much as possible to limit exposure.

"It does no good to then have the kids going to birthday parties or multiple types of functions where they're exposed to many different people outside their household. That does limit the effectiveness of remote learning. So extend that same concept of keeping your kids home and safe to other parts of their life as well," Hagston said.

Stafford sent out an email earlier this week regarding "rumors of schools closing." A section of that email is below:

While there are many speculations as to what the next thing to anticipate is, in what seems to be a time of unknowns, we wanted to establish as much clarity as possible. Following the governor's mitigations changes yesterday (2020/11/17) and discussions with the Southern Seven Health Department, we DO NOT anticipate schools being forced back to full remote learning by these agencies.

The governor's office has maintained its position that this decision will be left to local control and Southern Seven Health Department has indicated that our plan to continue in person learning, until otherwise mandated by the state, is the best approach due to the minimal spread that has been experienced in schools. It has also been noted that if students are forced back to remote learning, they have a much greater likelihood of exposure to high risk and uncontrolled environments, as opposed to schools that have been practicing increased cleaning, sanitizing, and numerous other mitigation practices.

The local decisions of maintaining in-person instruction are based on the overwhelming data in all four of our grade schools and the high school. That data clearly indicates that we have experienced little to no school based spread. While there have been students and staff that have tested positive, those positives have not been generated from being at schools. The positives, however do generate close contacts, but again not further school related positives, in the school. We have been working cooperatively with the health department to be proactive in making notifications and have followed the guidance from CDC and IDPH. We also realize with little to no school based spread, those that have had to quarantine are somewhat frustrated about missing in-person time. We understand that frustration, but realize that we must yield to the health authorities.

Jeff Weinrich

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