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Columbus Day, teacher recognitions, remote learning updates round out D161 discussions

Columbus Day could become a thing of the past — at least in name — for Flossmoor School District 161, but officials said it deserves more discussion before making any permanent changes.

The topic was raised early during the school board’s meeting Tuesday, Oct. 13, one day later than normal because of the federal holiday. Superintendent Dana Smith said the question came up in submitted public comments for the meeting.

He noted public hearings would be required if the district did not want to observe the holiday as a day off. In recent years, it has come under fire based on the history of Christopher Columbus, and is sometimes instead observed as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Smith said he received a recommendation for putting in a waiver for all holidays to give the district more flexibility. Another option would be to observe the holiday but simply call it something different, which does not require a change in policy. He said he feels like the district discusses the issue every year, and the board may have even changed it once for the year but allowed it to revert to Columbus Day.

“We were still going to celebrate the day and just change the name of it,” he said.

Smith added that deciding how the holiday is going to be taught is an important consideration, too.

“What we have to do is make sure we’re teaching the right side of it, so that all of that information is getting to our students so they can critically think about it,” he said.

Board Member Stephen Paredes wondered if the district would change it to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“It can just say school’s closed, or literally anything,” Smith noted.

Board President Michelle Hoereth added, “I think it’s worth discussing.”

The plan is to have a full discussion on the matter during the school board’s next meeting on Monday, Oct. 26.


Remote learning update

An option to return to in-person learning for the vast majority of students in District 161 may not happen until after the second quarter and holiday break at the earliest.

Smith noted during his superintendent’s update that both Homewood School District 153 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 are similarly trying to figure out how to bring specialized students back into buildings. But Homewood schools are reportedly staying remote for the majority of the student body until sometime after the second quarter.

“We should probably consider a similar path,” Smith said.

Smith said the district needs time for possible mandatory quarantine issues. He noted as of Friday, Oct. 9, 23 staff members completed fit testing for N95 masks. The Illinois State Board of Education mandated N95 masks for specific staff members in August.

Smith also said the Illinois Department of Public Health has had 44 confirmed COVID outbreaks within Illinois schools, but officials cannot get more specific information regarding those schools. He said that makes him hesitant to rush a return to in-person learning.

“They could be next door; they could be in the corner of the state,” he said.

Kathleen Knawa, a school nurse with the district, noted an “outbreak” is when two cases are epidemiologically linked to a place and time within 14 days, such as two students in the same classroom. It is considered “significant” if such an outbreak arises, she said.

Smith noted earlier in the meeting he received questions about when students would be returning.

Currently, Smith said, “We do not have a plan in process,” to return a large-scale number of students to in-person learning.


Three teachers go #AboveAndBeyond

Eric Melnyczenko, the district’s director of administrative services, announced the October #AboveAndBeyond winners: Amanda Watson from Western Avenue School, and DeLores Mannes and Lisa Nicotra from Parker Junior High.

The honor is District 161’s Staff of the Month program honoring teachers who participate above and beyond the defined boundaries of his/her duties and responsibilities; take initiative to develop or implement a creative solution to benefit the students, school or community; are positive, punctual and professional; demonstrate effective communication and outreach across all settings; and inspire others to make the district a better place.

Nominations may come from staff, parents or students, but only staff votes on the recipients.

“I’m very excited to get this underway for our new school year,” Melnyczenko said.

Reading from nomination forms, Melnyczenko noted Watson was recognized because she has “remained happy, calm, positive every step of the way.” Mannes went “above and beyond” with encouraging words to help a student with his confidence and writing skills, and Nictora has utilized a Bitmoji classroom and “continues to develop new slides to teach them different lessons in history,” he said.

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