Quincy School District ‘not mandating anything’ in regard to COVID, but Quincy doctor asks for public statement

Dr. Todd Porter

Dr. Todd Porter asked school officials during Wednesday's Quincy School Board meeting to make a public statement about its COVID policy. | David Adam

QUINCY — Superintendent Todd Pettit and School Board President Shelley Arns both said Wednesday night the Quincy School District’s policies about COVID are … well, back to what they were before anyone had ever heard of COVID.

“We’ve posted on our website our typical flu criteria and what we typically do,” Pettit said after Wednesday’s School Board meeting. “Basically, in terms of COVID, we’re not mandating anything. We’re really following what would typically be flu and cold protocol that have always been in place.”

“We’re not recommending masks, but I don’t ever want to discourage someone if they feel safer with wearing it,” Arns said. “We have to remember we’re a school of thousands of kids and teachers, and we all have ideas on what’s best for our students and our families. I want people to be able to be free to make that choice.”

However, a Quincy doctor who addressed the School Board on Wednesday said while the district says it isn’t mandating any COVID policies, he believes the medical community still is — and he’s asking for help from the School Board to fix that.

Dr. Todd Porter, a pediatrician with Quincy Medical Group, said he was pleased with changes announced last Friday by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education for school guidance that removed the recommendation to quarantine, removed information about Test to Stay options and added information on when to wear a mask.

“Perhaps the most truthful statement about the updated guidance is, ‘Schools should balance the risk of COVID-19 with educational, social and mental health outcomes when deciding which prevention strategies to put in place,’” Porter told board members. 

Porter went on to say masks are harmful, impede social connectedness, speech and language, and can cause other physical and mental health symptoms. He believes isolation for five to 10 days contributes to chronic absenteeism and exacerbates the learning loss students have already experienced.

“The operative word is guidance,” Porter said. “These are just recommendations and suggestions from the state that may or may not be implemented by the school districts going forward. It’s clear if you read that guidance that it is not binding on anyone at all. If you, school district, don’t want to follow it, you don’t have to.”

A document posted on the QPS website recommends students and staff who test positive for COVID to isolate for five days from onset of symptoms. It also recommends a person exposed to COVID to quarantine for five days after exposure if he or she isn’t fully vaccinated.

Porter asked school officials to make a public statement about its COVID policy.

“If a child has a positive COVID test, and that parent calls our clinic saying, ‘Oh, they’re positive,’ our nurses are reading off IDPH guidance,” Porter said after the meeting. “If (that news) comes from a medical professional, that parent is going to basically interpret, ‘I’m being told to isolate my child for five days out of school.’ If the school says, ‘We’re not policing outside of our walls,’ that’s still what the parents are hearing and interpreting, so they are more likely to keep their child out of school. The school is not necessarily going to call and say, ‘Hey, why is your child out of school?’ 

“You can say that it’s returned to normal, but absent of our own health department doing this for the schools, I believe schools need to say, ‘If your child is fever-free for 24 hours, we want them back in school.’”

Porter told the board he would endorse such a letter based on his pediatric clinical expertise. He said when families received a letter during last school year from then-Superintendent Roy Webb informing them that children no longer had to wear masks, “it was one of the happiest days of the year for kids.”

Pettit told the board Monday’s kickoff to the school year, with the district’s 1,150 employees meeting at Quincy Junior High School, was “an electric moment for all of us.” It was the first time staff members had gathered for the start of the year since 2019.

He noted “really positive energy” at all of Quincy’s public schools on Wednesday for the first day of school. He said getting around to all the schools was “more challenging than I anticipated,” but he saw “a lot of positive vibes and attitude.” 

The board approved a tentative $92.2 million district budget for 2022-23 and set a public hearing for Sept. 21. The final budget is expected to be approved in September.

The tentative budget, presented Tuesday to the Finance Committee, shows expected total revenue of $97.7 million and a $5.5 million surplus. Ryan Whicker, chief of business operations, said the budget incorporates a 4 percent increase in salaries for staff except for paraeducators, transportation, food service and security — which all will receive higher increases.

Assumptions for the general budget include the district receiving an additional $426,000 in local property taxes, an extra $393,000 in evidence-based funding and $9 million more in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. Whicker planned for a $3 million decrease in the corporate personal property replacement tax revenue.

Also Wednesday, Pettit reported on construction projects in the district. The final phase of renovation work at Quincy Junior High School wrapped up over the summer as new LED lighting was installed. Work on the stage curtain is on schedule at Quincy High School and expected to be completed before the fall musical.

As for the transportation department moving into the former K&L Arena, Pettit said, “We’re finishing this week with department leaders meeting with the architect to determine what their needs assessment is. Then moving forward, the architect will be able to better prepare options for us as well for that renovation.”

“They’re still in the process of figuring out everything that needs to be done,” Arns said.

The board also:

  • Observed a moment of silence for Maxine Bennett, a long-time volunteer for the Back to School Help Fair who died shortly after the annual event was held Saturday.
  • Approved 2022-23 budgets for the Special Education Association, Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center and West Central Region Joint Agreement.
  • Approved the appointment of Rick Ehrhart to the Building Committee.
  • Approved the appointment of Sayeed Ali to the Finance Committee, replacing Richard McNay.
  • Learned the transportation department is nearly fully staffed. “We can let drivers be drivers and maintenance folks be maintenance folks,” Pettit said, referring to last year when department employees occasionally were used as substitute bus drivers.
  • Renewed its school resource officer memorandum of understanding with the Quincy Police Department. The district will pay 55 percent (approximately $200,000) of the cost of the three officers. The city pays the rest.

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