A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie state. To add a recipient please click here
30th June 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for the Prairie State.

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Illinois schools lagged behind other states in access to in-person learning
New data shows about 10% of Illinois students had access to full-time in-person learning from September 2020 to April 2021, with this access higher for white students compared with students of color. The state ranks 42nd in the country when evaluating the most access to full-time in-person learning during that period of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research published Tuesday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Wyoming and Montana had the greatest access on average, while Hawaii had the least. “Urban districts might be less likely to open for full-time in-person learning, in part because of higher COVID-19 community rates, and these districts generally include more students of color,” the study authors wrote. “Further, rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality have been higher in communities of color, and districts serving a larger share of these students might have faced more significant public health challenges as they made decisions about reopening schools.”
New Illinois law allows student athletes to be compensated for use of name, image
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a measure into law Tuesday that allows college athletes to sign endorsement deals, making Illinois the latest of nearly two dozen states to enact policies allowing student-athletes to profit off the use of their names and likenesses. The Student-Athlete Endorsement Rights Act, allows college and university athletes to be compensated for their name or image and allows them to retain agents. “With this law, Illinois is at the forefront of taking some pressure off of talented kids who are torn between finishing their degree or cashing in on the big leagues,” Pritzker said. “But to be clear, the benefits of this law don’t stop with kids bound for the NFL, or the NBA. Any student athlete can partner with businesses in their college towns, as well as brands big and small, to see a financial benefit from the hours they pour into their craft...This isn’t just a win for student athletes, it’s a win for the future of our entire state.”
Pandemic 'widened in-person learning disparities,' CDC warns
New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the pandemic widened disparities in full-time, in-person learning between white and minority students. While in-person learning increased for all school children in 2021, it increased the most for white students. In-person learning increased to 74.6% for whites from January 2021 to April 2021, to 63.4% for blacks, 58.9% for Hispanics, and 56.9% for all other races. Though the study had a number of limitations, including sampling primarily from larger school districts, researchers found that students in the South had the highest rate of in-person learning, on average, at 62.5%. The rates in the Midwest, Northeast, and West were 37.1%, 16.2%, and 21.8%, respectively. Separately, a survey by the Rand Corp. indicates that the percentage of Black and Latino parents who reported being uncertain about or against the fall return to class was just under 30%, nearly three times as high as the 10% for White parents. Similarly, research from the University of Southern California shows 30% of Black parents and 18% of Hispanic parents surveyed from mid-May through June 22 are planning for remote instruction or are unsure about returning to school for fall, compared with just 12% of White and Asian parents.
District 131 board approves administrator appointments
The East Aurora School District 131 Board of Education has approved the appointment of three district administrators: Katherine L. Lippoldt as assistant director of student services; Kara L. Patrick as new assistant director of health services; and Brad M. Wieher as the new executive director of curriculum & instruction.
District 155 offloads Haber Oaks Campus for $700,000
Community High School District 155 has finalized the sale of Haber Oaks Campus for $700,000 to Elm Tree Properties, a local developer. The Board of Education plans to use the proceeds of the sale to continue to improve district facilities.
District 65 faces lawsuit from teacher based on antiracist curriculum
Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is facing a lawsuit due to its antiracist programming, which a teacher in the district said violates her constitutional rights. The Southeastern Legal Foundation, which is representing teacher Stacy Deemar, alleges that the district has treated both students and employees differently based on race; it cites the district’s implementation of antiracist training for teachers, beginning in 2017, as well as the inclusion of similar values in district-wide curriculum, as examples of division and race-based harm found throughout the district.  According to the lawsuit, Ms Deemar has previously filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about District 65’s hiring practices and creation of affinity spaces, among other complaints. 
How schools can help overcome vaccine hesitancy
Public health experts say that schools are perfectly positioned to play a vital role of helping students and their parents overcome uncertainty about the new COVID-19 vaccines.  Strong vaccination rates are seen as key to middle and high schools returning to anything resembling pre-pandemic normalcy in many places this fall. “We’re at the point where it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” said Wen-Ying Sylvia Chou, a program director at the National Institutes of Health who studies health communications and online discourse. “We all have a role to play, including schools. I think the question is how.” In New Orleans, school district officials see the vaccine as key to getting schools back to something resembling normal this fall. However, families have been far less enthusiastic than teachers were to get the vaccine, and district officials quickly realized they had to do more than make the vaccine easily accessible, said Tiffany Delcour, the chief operations officer at NOLA Public Schools. The district plans to hold town halls with local medical experts for families and is exploring the possibility of offering incentives, such as meet and greets with New Orleans Saints players or even doing away with schoolwide mask mandates if enough students in a given building get vaccinated. Still, must also be sensitive to the communities they serve, and be prepared to tailor their approach in encouraging the uptake of vaccines among their students. For example, the nation’s history of performing medical experiments on Black Americans drives mistrust and hesitancy about the government and medical establishments to this day, as does issues with ongoing racial bias.
Districts wrestle with challenges of construction projects
With COVID-19 spread beginning to recede, and state legislatures firming up K-12 spending for next year, school officials and policy makers are grappling with the challenge of maintaining and improving school buildings so they’re safe and appealing for students, staff, and the broader public to visit daily. Key issues include a nationwide shortage of highly skilled workers who can handle the complexities of maintenance projects, as well as construction projects like building a new addition or a new school, a rise in the cost of materials such as steel, and a lack of clarity on how districts can spend their federal stimulus funding. Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education lists construction as an eligible use of stimulus dollars, if the district can explain how the project relates to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Replacing HVAC units is likely to be acceptable, but building a new gymnasium might not be. All of these pressures could lead some districts to be less ambitious with their design planning, or to hold off on necessary work until a later date, said Joe Dixon, a former school facilities administrator in California public schools who now consults with school districts across the state.
Opinion: Biden's electric school bus deal important, but lacking
In an opinion piece for The Hill Phillip Burgoyne-Allen, a 2021 Clean Energy Leadership Institute fellow and a policy professional focused on transportation and environment issues, examines the school transport elements of the $1.2tn infrastructure bill backed last week by President Joe Biden. The framework includes $7.5bn to help replace thousands of diesel-powered school and transit buses with electric models; a sum Mr. Burgoyne-Allen describes as "certainly better than nothing," but which nevertheless "falls far short of what’s needed to protect students and the environment." He says that, at current costs, even $25bn would only electrify about 20% of school buses, adding that school districts only spend $27bn total on school transportation each year.

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