It looks like most Peoria Public Schools students will be able to go back to class sooner than expected.
The school board gave its unanimous consent on Monday to a plan introduced by Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat to send grades 5-8 back in November, and high schoolers in January. Grade schoolers are returning this month.
The plan looks similar to one approved by the board on June 22, before the last-minute decision to start off the year entirely remotely. All students will return on a hybrid schedule, with grades split into alternating A-B segments, switching between virtual and in-person learning in an effort to limit the number of people in a building at any one time.
Kherat said the key is rapid COVID-19 testing, funded by a $200,000 donation from former Caterpillar CEO Bob Gilmore's foundation, and a matching donation from Dr. Aaron Rossi of Reditus Labs. Gilmore died last month at age 100. Both men graduated from Peoria public high schools.
"This is tremendous. It's a game-changing donation," said Kherat. "And it's really what we needed to bring more students back sooner."
Kherat said the rapid testing cuts down on the need for extended quarantines. The testing returns results in 4 to 6 hours, versus several days for a PCR test like those used at community-based testing sites.
"This opportunity will allow us to return to in-person instruction in a way that minimizes the spread of COVID-19, without the necessity of quarantining large numbers of students and staff," she said.
Symptomatic students and staff will undergo COVID-19 testing. Random testing of the student and staff population also is planned, in stages.
Kherat said middle school will follow the same pattern as K-1, which restarted in-person classes on Oct. 5.
Fifth and sixth graders would return starting Nov. 4 or Nov. 5, depending on whether the student is on an A or B schedule. Seventh and 8th grades would restart on Nov. 9 and 10.
Some high-schoolers also could return by Nov. 9 if they are deemed higher-risk. But Kherat said the complexity of high school requires a later start date.
Second through 4th grades already were slated to return Oct. 26.
Mask-wearing, social distancing, and other measures will remain in place, as mandated by the state.
Students also will have the option to continue opting for remote learning, if they choose. Grades 5-8 will use the Acellus platform, while high schoolers will be offered learning through Edgenuity.
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