As the winds of March are beginning to settle and the freezing temps boast their last hurrahs, our minds and hearts look forward to spring… finally. It has been a long year for many, if not all of us. Yet together, I believe, we have done great work. It has not always been easy… but we have gotten through it.

With spring, comes our sense of a new beginning which leads to a greater desire for freedom and normalcy. We can almost feel it in our bones. I continue to encourage all of us to exercise mindfulness and caution in our choices, to continue to minimize the risk to our fragile loved ones and community members.

The questions of the day seem to be “When will masks go away?” or “Will we have to return to school wearing masks in the fall?” I so wish I had a crystal ball to see into the future. 

The district has no immediate plans to end the protocol of masking for this year. We have worked to follow CDC and IPHD guidance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to do that. 

Our goal continues to be to provide the best education possible to students in the safest manner possible given the guidance we have. At this time, continued masking allows us to return to a more normal interaction amongst our students throughout their day and minimizes the need for them to quarantine should they come in contact with a COVID-positive individual, thus keeping them in school.  Without continued mask-wearing, these steps would not be likely at this time.

Now, as for next year… time and only time will tell. I hope and pray almost daily that we can return to the classroom without the requirements of masks. I believe it will be, but nothing, as we have learned, is a guarantee. Ultimately, the board will decide all of this as part of the ongoing return to learn planning processes.

While some may think, “Why are you still planning? We are nearing the end of this experience.” As I said, there are no guarantees, and as we couldn’t flip a switch to be ready for this year, we can’t simply shut it off either. Basically, we are in the process of re-engineering again. We are looking at what we learned; what worked, and what did not about many aspects of our work. Physically, we are also re-considering what items we will need to return to the classroom and what we may need to hold out to shift swiftly should illness arrive again next year. It is a continuous improvement at its greatest. 

Currently, the State is not requiring that schools offer a virtual option to families with medically fragile members due to COVID-19 for the 2021-2022 school year. With that in mind, the district does not intend to provide a virtual setting for student learning. Should the State change its requirements, the district would of course provide such an offering. 

The number of students in virtual has declined dramatically over the recent months. I would encourage families remaining in virtual to consider a return to school yet this spring if possible. In the mind of a child or adolescent, little things can become very big and scary. The return to brick-and-mortar school is not unlike that. It can bring great anxiety to a child. The longer the time to dwell on it, the greater it becomes. Sixteen months is a long time for our thoughts to become our reality, regardless of if the thoughts were real to start with. If we can get them back in school yet this spring, that mind piece is minimized in the fall and they will be set up for greater success then.

In closing, thank you for your support throughout this year. We have two months before we close the book on the 20-21 school year. It will pass quickly. Enjoy these few days off before the rush of spring begins.

Lisa Beames