Some PMSA students returned to school on Monday, Feb. 22, for the first time since the pandemic began. | Shanel Romain

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Some District 209 students, whose families chose the hybrid learning option, returned to school on Monday, Feb. 22, for the first time since the pandemic shut the doors last March.

Students, divided alphabetically into two groups, are returning either on Mondays and Tuesdays or on Thursdays and Fridays for in-person learning at all three campuses: Proviso East, Proviso West, and the Proviso Math and Science Academy.

There are, of course, many safety rules in place. Face masks are required at all times except during eating and drinking. Social distance must be maintained between everyone in the buildings, including students and staff. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes will be readily available throughout the buildings.

Staff and students must fill out a daily health screener prior to entering campus. A “yes” answer to any of the health questions for a student means they must wait in a designated isolation area and will be required to leave the building when safe and after a parent or guardian is notified by the school nurse.

Free COVID-19 testing is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at each of the three campuses from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Detailed information about the back-to-school plan, including schedules and maps, can be found on the district’s website at 0pths209.org/Page/5229.

However, not everyone is happy about students returning to school. According to Maggie Riley, president of the Proviso Teachers’ Union, the union never agreed to the return to school plan put forth by the district.

“We did not reach an agreement with the district,” Riley said on Feb. 22. “We were bargaining with them, and we weren’t able to agree on four issues. The district declared an impasse.”

The union, Riley said, filed a motion for supplemental relief with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, and there will be a hearing next week on March 4.

The four outstanding issues, according to Riley, are ventilation, vaccinations, bringing in an industrial hygienist, and what metrics the district should be using to determine when schools should bring students and faculty back.

Ventilation, said Riley, is problematic, especially at Proviso East and West where “natural ventilation” is being used to keep the risk of COVID-19 spread reduced.

“Natural ventilation,” she said, means that the windows are opened in classrooms being used for teaching. The union does not agree with having open windows during the winter months.

To handle the ventilation issue the union suggested bringing in an industrial hygienist, one that the union said they’d pay for themselves, at no cost at all to the district. According to Riley, the district declined this offer and union request.

A PMSA student walks into PMSA for the first time this school year. | Shanel Romain

Vaccines are another sticking point for the union, which wants the COVID-19 shot made available to all teachers and staff.

In January, District 209 announced it would bring students back to the classrooms in the beginning of February, but then pushed the date back to later in the month because, said Superintendent James Henderson in an announcement to families, the district would obtain and distribute vaccines first.

In a Jan. 23 announcement, the district said it would be receiving 3,000 doses of the COVID vaccine “in the next few weeks.” The plan was to start vaccinating teachers and staff during the first week of February, then vaccinate students if there were enough shots left.

That never happened, though, and the union wants teachers to have the vaccine before they return to the classrooms.

Finally, the union and district couldn’t reach an agreement on which metrics should be used to determine when it is safe to reopen the buildings.

The Review reached out to Henderson and the D209 communications director Nicole Wilson for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.