Arian Seitz, a fifth grader at Ridgely Elementary, had plenty of fun this summer with the family, his mother Kenzie Seitz said. Hiking around the Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois and going swimming and horseback riding kept him busy as part of District 186’s Summer SCOPE program.
Monday, though, it was nice to be in familiar surroundings, she said.
“He loves being at Ridgely,” Seitz said. “It’s been nice to get him out of the house with people who know what they’re doing.”
Most District 186 students headed back to class Monday, one that has a bit of a different feel to it after some two-and-a-half years of mitigations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Around the district, construction projects are wrapping up that will give students more spacious classrooms and cafeterias.
One of the biggest building projects is ongoing at Lanphier, which is getting a new wing to the school along with a new gymnasium and auditorium. The construction has shut down vehicular traffic on 11th Street between North Grand Avenue to Converse Street daily from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. and 2:45 to 3:30 p.m.
Metal detectors have been fully implemented in the district’s three high schools and four middle schools, along with other alternative schools.
Ball-Chatham and Rochester schools headed back to class last week.
Public schools throughout Springfield, said Superintendent Jennifer Gill, remain staffed by extra cleaning crews and certified nursing assistants.
Classrooms also were stocked with extra face masks and disinfectant wipes, she said.
For students or staff members who are showing symptoms, schools have BinaxNOW COVID testing as well as a testing clinic at White Oaks Mall that has Shield (saliva-based) testing, Gill added.
There were no immediate reports, said Sangamon County Department of Public Health director Gail O’Neill, of any COVID outbreaks from the county schools that did return to class last week.
“I think we’ve learned a lot about staying home if we’re sick,” O’Neill said. “I think that’s going to be the key to this, for parents to make sure their children go back to school healthy.”
Gill said there were a few school bus-related hiccups Monday morning, but for the first time in three years, First Student, the transportation company the district contracts with, had a full host of drivers.
“I think it’s starting off well,” Gill said.
Springfield Police Department Commander Sara Pickford said all district schools were receiving extra patrols, from beat officers to command staff.
“We’re either getting out and interacting with people or maybe just being in the area to give a little extra patrol,” she said.
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Uniformed school safety officers are assigned to the three high schools, Pickford added, and off-duty SPD officers and Sangamon County sheriff’s deputies are assigned to other schools.
SPD has posted safety rules regarding school buses on its Facebook page.
“The general consensus was that it was a marvelous first day,” said Springfield Education Association president Aaron Graves, who visited several schools. “The parents, the administration, the teachers and the support staff working together, I think the proof is in the pudding. It was a really good first day.”
O’Neill said the health department was encouraging parents to get children vaccinated against COVID and the flu.
Children six months and older can receive the COVID vaccine, O’Neill said.
Kiara Johnson said Monday it was nice to have her son, Kiyan, a third grader at Ridgely, back in a routine.
“He’s very familiar with the staff. He’s very familiar with the school, so he was very excited to come to school today,” Johnson said. “Summer kind of took him out of his routine, so I think he’s excited to get back into the routine of going to school, having homework, seeing his friends on a daily (basis), so I’m excited to have him in-person again. I think he learns better in person.”
Johnson said she trusted school personnel, especially when it came to the health of her son.
“I think the school keeps us very informed about anything going on with the kids,” Johnson said. “I feel like they’ll take action right away if there are any concerns. I’m very confident and comfortable they have all the training and skills to make sure it’s a good, successful and healthy school year.”
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected], twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.