CHRISMAN — The Chrisman school board is reluctant to go against the Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) ruling that basketball is a high-risk activity for spreading …
CHRISMAN — The Chrisman school board is reluctant to go against the Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH) ruling that basketball is a high-risk activity for spreading COVID-19.
Illinois schools are facing a dilemma about the normal winter basketball season. On the one hand, the IDPH is saying don’t play, but the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has not endorsed that position and said it is up to each school district to decide.
Interim superintendent Jim Acklin made the difficult recommendation Chrisman postpone a winter sports season during the Thursday, Nov. 12, school board meeting.
“It is not in good conscience that I can recommend it, even though I would like to see the kids play,” said Acklin.
His decision was reached after conferring with the school attorney, the district’s insurance provider and insurance providers for other districts. Acklin said those experts all agreed the district faces serious legal ramifications if the board allows basketball to continue and a COVID-19 case can be traced back to that action.
“Going against the IDPH is not just negligence, it becomes wanton negligence, and tort immunity no longer applies,” Acklin said.
Without tort immunity, any lawsuits filed become the district’s, and ultimately taxpayers’, financial responsibility because the insurance company will not defend the district or pay on a settlement. It also means each school board member can be named as a defendant, and they are personally responsible for hiring an attorney and paying what the court orders
“As a practical matter, the dominoes have started to fall,” said Acklin. “So far 300 schools have opted out. I’m not sure there are enough schools that we could have play.”
He added at some point the IHSA must address this issue in a more meaningful way than saying it is up to each school.
Board member Cory Chaney expressed a personal frustration Indiana is allowing high school sports, but Illinois is not. He said it may force students to look for other athletic outlets and put an end to school sports.
Chaney did not suggest going ahead with the season, nor did any other board member.
“As much as we might like to take that stand, I don’t think it is worth it,” said Acklin.
Board member Steve Lorenzen suggested tabling any action on the basketball season until something breaks between the IDPH and the IHSA and more information is available to school districts.
According to the IDPH, it may be possible to have a spring basketball season, depending on the pandemic conditions at that time, and board member Karen Webster asked if the school can allow the team to continue practicing so players are ready, if there is a spring season.
Principal Cole Huber said players can practice to maintain conditioning and skills, but they must wear masks and cannot scrimmage.
At another point in the discussion, Chaney asked if there was any benefit to doing remote learning after the Christmas break to eliminate any possible exposure due to family gatherings, holiday parties and other activities makeing its way into the schools.
“We’ve discussed the pros and cons as an administrative team, and the preference is to have in-person school,” said Acklin. “We are not going to be stubborn about it. If we have to go to remote learning, we will. We need to look at it day-by-day.”
He added the district almost reached the tipping point earlier this school year when a staff member tested positive and that resulted in 30 students and additional staff members being quarantined.
“Had there been one more staff member, we would have had to go remote for a lack of substitute teachers,” said Acklin, noting teachers are starting to feel the stress of teaching both in-person students and preparing lessons for remote learning students.
“Teachers are frustrated, but they are determined to do the best for our kids,” said Huber.
Elementary principal Kelly Schluter addressed a unique situation at that building. She said social distancing is possible in most of the classrooms, except for the large fifth grade.
The solution in that case was dividing the class into two sections. One week the teacher is with one group of students, and those in the other room get the lesson via livestream of what is she is doing in the other room. The following week the teacher moves to the other room for live instructions and the first classroom gets lessons via the livestream.
“It works as best it can,” said Schluter.