ROCKTON — Hononegah students will return to school later than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Board of Education met Wednesday and approved blended learning plan for the 2020-2021 school year.

Students will be divided into two groups designated ‘Purple’ and ‘Gold’ with half of the student body attending in-person at the high school and then participate in online learning.

In total, families of 200 students opted for an all-online learning option through an Illinois Virtual Course Program administered by Hononegah staff, according to Superintendent Michael Dugan. Both blended learning groups represent 1,750 students. 

Dugan said the reopening plan was drafted with flexibility in mind.

“The safety of our faculty, staff and students is our top priority,” Dugan said. “This plan will allow us to adapt to a fluid situation that can change at any moment.”

School board member Diane LaForge was the lone dissenting vote to the school’s plan, saying she had “great concerns” regarding reopening in light of the local spread of COVID-19.

“The bottom line is we don’t know when we could go back to remote learning before we even start,” LaForge said. “I feel like this is a wildfire and it’s coming for us. I feel like we really need to step back and see what needs to happen.”

Regardless of being home or at school, students will be required to participate in a minimum of five hours of coursework as required by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

Freshman orientation will take place on Aug. 31 followed by the start date for Purple group students on Sept. 1 and Gold group students on Sept. 2. The first semester will end on Jan. 14 and the second semester will end on June 4, according to the plan.

Under the Restore Illinois plan phases three and four, students and staff will be required to maintain six feet of physical distance as much as possible. All individuals in school buildings must wear face coverings or a mask at all times with entry not to be granted without a face covering. Exemptions to wearing a mask must receive a physician’s note, and disciplinary action may be taken if an individual refuses to wear a mask that “causes a disruption to the school environment.”

Students, faculty, staff and visitors will be required to undergo health screenings if they have not completed an online screening self certification form, with random temperature checks to be administered. Students and staff are instructed to stay home if exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms. Any student with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater or that exhibits COVID-19 symptoms will be directed to a designated quarantine area. Students in the isolated area will be provided a mask until a parent or guardian picks the student up. Students who have had contact with someone positive with COVID-19 must follow Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) guidelines for self-monitoring and self-quarantine.

Over the summer, upgrades were made to the HVAC system through a state grant.

Classrooms will be arranged with seating 6 feet apart, if possible, with the option to host classes outside.

Students will not be assigned a locker unless there is a specific need that is approved through the school’s building administration.

In the event of a positive COVID-19 case within the school, contact tracing investigations will be conducted by the Winnebago County Health Department. Those identified as being in close contact with the individual will be asked to stay home and isolate and be alert for symptoms for COVID-19.

Attendance staff will also request specific symptom reporting when student absences are reported along with COVID-19 diagnosis and COVID-19 exposure.

Any student or staff member who may exhibit COVID-19 symptoms will be required to produce a negative COVID-19 test or pass 72 hours without a fever and contact the school nurses’s office prior to returning to school. Those possibly exposed to the virus will be required to quarantine at home for 14 days without the onset of symptoms. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, individuals must quarantine for 10 days from the onset of symptoms and remain symptom free for 10 days since the positive test result. If a positive test is made and the individual has no symptoms, staff and students must remain quarantined until 10 days following the positive test result and remain symptom free.

In the event of a school closure due to high rates of COVID-19, the high school would institute a “possible short-term closure” followed by notification of community stakeholders; activate a remote learning plan; deep clean the facility.