District 65 reopening prompts student, staff response

For the 2021-2022 school year, District 65 decided to reopen with all in-person learning. Middle and elementary schoolers will be back in the building at full capacity for the first time since the initial shut down of the district in 2020.

District 65 will continue to take a layered approach to health and safety by requiring masking (regardless of vaccination status), maintaining physical distancing, making facility improvements, enhancing cleaning, enacting optional COVID-19 testing, while encouraging hand washing and staying home while sick,” the District 65 website states.

The first day of the school year for District 65 students was Thursday, Aug. 27. Both the middle and elementary schools worked to minimize contact between students, especially those in different grades. 

“Our new administration routed traffic patterns so that each grade knows how to move from one space to another without crossing [paths with] another grade, and I appreciate that organization,” King Arts 4th grade teacher Carrie Swan explained. 

Additionally, as another layer of safety, most teachers will return to school with at least one dose of the vaccine, as it was newly mandated that all teachers must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. However, it is possible to be exempt if being vaccinated goes against a teacher’s religious belief or is medically unsafe for that teacher. 

While teachers will either need to provide proof of vaccination or be required to submit weekly COVID-19 tests, students return to the building with no such mandate. Last year, the inability to vaccinate students under 12 led to many families to opt out of in-person learning at District 65.

“I had the option to [return to school last year], but my family decided to keep me at home, because I was unvaccinated,” Haven Middle School student Alana Burn said. 

This year, Burn is more comfortable learning in person due to District 65 offering COVID-19 tests and the higher vaccination rates of people older than 12. 

“It’s really cool [that they’re testing], so that people can stay extra safe,” Burn said. 

Many changes for extra safety are still being made especially when it comes to elementary students, as they are ages six to 12. This means almost all are too young to be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“[At King Arts], elementary students are supposed to now eat outside whenever possible, and that was a last minute change,” Swan said.

However, unlike the elementary and ETHS students, many middle schoolers are not being offered a space to eat outside. 

“We’re only allowed to eat inside, which makes me a little nervous, especially with [the Delta variant] going around,” Burn said. “But I think it’s okay for a short period of time. It’s only for 20 minutes. … Inside is okay, I guess.”

Throughout the school year, compromises will have to be made, as both students and teachers have varying levels of comfortability coming to school this year. This applies especially to masking indoors. 

“I feel comfortable with [students] having masks. I feel comfortable without them having masks but… let’s ask the kids, do they feel comfortable wearing masks? Has this become something… that kids now look at it as just kind of putting on their backpack so to speak. And if everybody feels comfortable with it, I’m okay with it.” Orrington teacher Michael Likhite said.

As District 65 begins its school year, there is much excitement to be back at 100 percent capacity, though there are challenges and changes ahead as well. Regardless, after over a year apart, schools begin to reform their communities. 

“I was really excited to see the kids that I never met last year, some of them I never saw,” Swan said. “And it just feels good to be back together. You know, I love my colleagues, and so it’s nice. We’re taking care of each other.”