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SIU head coach Grant Williams calls out instructions to his team during the first half against Lipscomb at Saluki Field at the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex in September in Carbondale.


Carbondale
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Carbondale Park District Board
Carbondale park board discusses vaccine mandate, slain SIU freshman tree memorial
  • Updated

The Carbondale Park District Board on Monday night discussed changes to its COVID-19 protocols, namely a vaccine mandate for employees.

During its virtual meeting, the board also approved the soliciting of bids for its general obligation bonds and suggested names of the two fields within the city's first dog park.

Commissioner Jane Adams said the mandate should be similar to state rules for educators. Employees would have the choice to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, or more frequent testing if there was an outbreak.

“Who’s paying for testing?” Commissioner Carl Flowers asked.

The board discussed the issue of pay, time off for testing and exemptions. They agreed that employees who don’t want to take the vaccine should get tested on their own time and pay any out-of-pocket costs for testing. Employees who receive a medical exemption could be tested on work time.

They also discussed documentation for exemptions and storing vaccine verification.

No action was taken. A special meeting will be called for Monday, Sept. 20 to discuss and approve the mandate.

The park district board also voted to solicit bids for general obligation bonds. A short hearing was held at the beginning of the board’s meeting.

Carbondale Park District intends to issue approximately $640,470 in general obligation limited tax park bonds in 2021, with a final maturity in 2022. The park district anticipates a 1.40 percent inflationary adjustment to the district’s non-referendum bond and interest property tax levy to pay these bonds when compared to the prior year’s levy, according to Trey Anderson, interim executive director of the park district.

The anticipated issue will be the only series of bonds secured by a direct property tax levy for the 2021 levy year, and will count against the $3 million in bonding authority authorized under the Bond Issue Notification Act.

Anderson said the park district does this every year to do maintenance and improvements to district properties.

Carbondale City Councilman Lee Fronabarger asked what the cost would be to taxpayers. Anderson said it would be $8,700.

Gail Robinson, secretary of Friends of Carbondale Dog Parks' executive board, presented the park district board with names for the two dog fields within the planned dog park.

The group granted naming rights to two large donors. Glenn and Jo Poshard, who donated $10,000 in December 2020, were given naming rights to the large dog play area. It will be known as Jane Adams Large Dog Field.

“It all started in Jane’s living room in 2016,” Robinson said, adding that Adams has spearheaded the project and put a lot of energy into getting funding for the dog park.

Kirsten Trimble, who donated $5,000 to the project, was given naming rights to the small dog play area. It will be known as Russlind Small Dog Field, after Trimble’s father.

The park district board approved the recommended names of the play areas, with Adams and Trimble abstaining from voting.

The overall dog park name must include SafePets, the organization that awarded the group $25,000 to build the dog park. Robinson said they were considering something like Carbondale Community Dog Park with SafePets worked into the name.

That final name has not been decided.

The board also:

  • Approved planting a tree in one of the parks in memory of Keeshanna Jackson, the SIU freshman who was fatally shot at a house party Aug. 22.
  • Signed a maintenance agreement for the Kopper’s Memorial. The memorial is scheduled to be revealed Oct. 2.
  • Heard a presentation about Natural Playscapes. Natural Playscapes uses materials found in nature to create play structures for children. The board discussed created such an area to replace the old playground at Life Community Center.

Editor's note: This story was changed to correct information about the park district's bond levy for 2021.


Education
featured top story
'We're desperate': Southern Illinois schools scramble to find substitute teachers
  • Updated

Wendell Wheeler is popular.

Sure, he fields inquiries as the head basketball coach of the Cobden High School Appleknockers, but that's not why he gets so many calls, emails and texts.

Simply put, Wheeler is in demand not as a coach, but as a substitute teacher. So much so that he gets several requests daily.

LES O'DELL THE SOUTHERN 

Wendell Wheeler, a retired teacher living in Carbondale, works as a substitute teacher most days during the academic year.

He is not alone. All across the region, elementary and high school administrators are scrambling to find professionals to fill in for teachers who are away from school because of illness or other commitments. Those who substitute are finding themselves in demand.

And though substituting can be a rough job, the most challenging role is the person assigned to finding the substitutes in the first place, Wheeler said.

“I think the most overlooked, underrated and toughest job in the schools right now is being the person who has to find the subs,” Wheeler said in between classes at Unity Point School in Carbondale where he was substituting for a seventh grade class. “It is an unbelievably hard job.”

The task of securing substitute teachers is more difficult now than ever before, said Bryce Jerrell who serves as superintendent of the Carrier Mills-Stonefort school district as well as principal of Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School.

“This year’s been very challenging,” he said, adding that schools often have to turn to support staff to cover classes or ask teachers to give up their planning periods to be with students in another classroom.

“We’ve had aides in the district that have stepped in where we needed them and sometimes you see administrators in classrooms,” he said.

Wheeler said his calendar fills up quickly, sometimes even weeks in advance to substitute for teachers with planned absences.

“I could easily sub every day. I feel bad because I can’t help every time I am needed. I get about three calls a day,” he said.

He added that his coaching duties or other commitments often limit his ability to substitute for a full day.

“Sometimes I’ll tell them that I can only help until 2:30 because I have another commitment and they’ll tell me that they will take whatever help I can give them. The schools are scrambling very, very much and I can’t fathom how hard it is and stressful to get all of the classes covered,” Wheeler said.

Unity Point School Dean of Students Mary Beth Goff pointed to several reasons for the shortage of substitutes.

“For so many years there was an overabundance of teachers so a lot of people used substituting as a way to get their foot in the door. Now that’s shifted to where those people have been able to secure full-time employment, so that has decreased the number of available substitutes,” she said.

School vaccine campaigns face blowback

Fearing his parents wouldn't approve of his decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine but needing their signature, Andrew signed up for the appointment in secret, and then sprang it on them at the last minute.

Goff added that she believes concerns about COVID-19 has also decreased the number of people on the substitute rolls. On any given day, she said Unity Point School is looking for six or seven substitutes for teachers and classroom aides. Unfortunately, she added, the pool of available substitutes is not very deep.

“We’re lucky in some respects in that we have some teacher’s aides and paraprofessionals who also have the substitute certification and we can do some moving around, but for every other substitute there maybe five or six schools calling them," Golf said. 

Goff said those interested in substituting must go through a licensing process and background check through a regional office of education. She encouraged anyone with an interest in children or education to apply to be a substitute.

Jerrell said his district, like many others, have tried to increase the daily pay rate for substitute teachers in an effort to attract more people. He said substitutes make $50-$100 or more for each day in the classroom, depending on credentials, the district and grade level.

“We’re desperate,” Jerrell said. “I don’t know what else we can do to entice people to come and substitute.”


National
AP
Census: Relief payments staved off hardship
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — Massive government relief passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic moved millions of Americans out of poverty last year, even as the official poverty rate increased slightly, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

The official poverty measure showed an increase of 1 percentage point in 2020, with 11.4% of Americans living in poverty, or more than 37 million people. It was the first increase in poverty after five consecutive annual declines.

But the Census Bureau's supplemental measure of poverty, which takes into account government benefit programs and stimulus payments, showed that the share of people in poverty dropped significantly after the aid was factored in.

The supplemental poverty measure was 2.6 percentage points lower than its pre-pandemic level in 2019. Stimulus payments moved 11.7 million people out of poverty, while expanded unemployment benefits kept 5.5 million from falling into poverty. Social Security continued to be the nation's most effective anti-poverty program.

"This really highlights the importance of our social safety net," said Liana Fox, chief of the Census' poverty statistics bureau.

That finding is likely to resonate in a divided Congress, where President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion "Build Back Better" plan faces uncertain prospects. Two anchors of last year's COVID response — enhanced unemployment benefits and a federal eviction moratorium — have expired, adding to concerns.

The Census reports released Tuesday cover income, poverty and health insurance, and amount to an annual check-up on the economic status of average Americans. The reports are based on extensive surveys and analysis.

During last year's epic economic collapse, employers shed 22.4 million jobs in March and April, the sharpest decline since records began in the 1940s. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits topped 6 million in a single week in April, by far the highest on record. Since then, the economy has recovered three-quarters of those lost jobs, but the U.S. still has 5.3 million fewer positions than before the pandemic.

A basic barometer of the economic health of the middle class registered the shock.

The median — or midpoint — household income decreased by 2.9% to $67,521 in 2020. The median is a statistical dividing line, with half of American households having lower incomes and the other half, higher. It was the first statistically significant drop in that measure in nearly a decade.

Driving the erosion, the report found that the number of people with earnings from work fell by about 3 million as the number of full-time year-round workers contracted by some 13.7 million.

But below those toplines there was a story a story of haves and have-nots.

People who held onto steady year-round jobs saw an increase in economic well-being, with their median earnings rising 6.9% after adjusting for inflation. People on the lower rungs of the job market, those with part-time jobs or trying to stay afloat in the gig economy, lost ground as median earnings decreased 1.2% for workers overall.

Despite widespread concerns that the pandemic would make millions more Americans uninsured, health coverage held its own in 2020, the Census found. More than 91% of Americans had insurance, but 28 million were uninsured.

But Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation said the numbers point to some glaring exceptions. For example, 38% of poor working age adults in the dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid were uninsured. Biden's budget bill would provide a workaround for more than 2 million caught in that coverage gap.

"It would be hard to find a group that struggles more to get access to affordable health care," Levitt said.

Congress passed five bipartisan COVID-19 response bills last year, totaling close to $3.5 trillion and signed into law by then-President Donald Trump. This year Democrats pushed through President Joe Biden's nearly $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on party-line votes. Its effects are not reflected in the Census report.

Though some of the federal aid last year was delayed for reasons from wrangling over costs to problems with distribution, on the whole it insulated American families from economic disaster that would have compounded the public health crisis. Some groups were left out, such as people not legally authorized to be in the country.

As Americans fought over measures such as mask wearing and closing down businesses and community life, lawmakers of both parties were motivated to take dramatic action, said economist Bruce Meyer, a University of Chicago expert on poverty.

"You had Democrats who were very focused on helping those who were unemployed and hurting, and you had Republicans who were willing to do many things to help the reelection of their president, so there was a confluence of incentives, or of desires, by politicians on both sides," he said.

Trump ultimately lost reelection but the Census report provides evidence that's relevant to the current debate over Biden's $3.5 trillion social infrastructure plan, said public policy analyst Robert Greenstein of the Brookings Institution think tank.

"For people who have a cynical view that nothing much government does works effectively, particularly on the poverty front, it will be harder to maintain that view," said Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of low-income people.

The Biden economic plan extends tax credits for families with children, which is seen as a strategy for reducing childhood poverty and its long-term consequences.


Education
breaking top story
Vaccinated JALC students will need 'fast pass' ID; unvaccinated must test weekly
  • Updated

John A. Logan officials have announced campus procedures to comply with the governor’s mandate requiring all individuals in higher education to be vaccinated or tested weekly to attend a college in the state.

The mandate is scheduled to go into effect on Monday, Sept. 20.

“Our staff has worked diligently to meet the requirement of the mandate,” College President Dr. Kirk Overstreet said in a news release. “We have a plan in place to test those that are not vaccinated and to help those that are vaccinated to enter campus efficiently.”

Student vaccine mandate caught some local colleges, universities off guard

Included in Thursday’s announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for educators and health care workers was a surprise for some of Southern Illinois’ institutions of higher learning: A requirement that college students also must receive vaccinations or be subject to frequent testing for coronavirus.

According to Overstreet, staff and students who have received the COVID vaccination will have a “Fast Pass” ID made.

With this ID, individuals can enter campus at two locations, Greenbriar or Mary Logan Road. There will be a Fast Pass ID check-in station at both locations, and having the Fast Pass ID will give individuals quick access to campus.

For students and staff who are not vaccinated against COVID, the college will have an outdoor COVID testing Center in Parking Lot A at the Greenbriar entrance beginning Monday, Sept. 20.

This testing site will be operable Mondays and Tuesdays from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

After completing testing, individuals will be given a pass for the week. With the pass, individuals can use the Fast Pass entrances for the remainder of the week.

The college plans to provide SHIELD saliva testing.

Those who test will be asked to sign a COVID testing authorization form at the time of their first test. Failure to sign the authorization form will result in not being permitted to remain on campus.

Those attending Extension Centers in Du Quoin and West Frankfort will need to come to the main campus for a test or contact their local health department for testing. If you choose to utilize outside testing, you will need to show a negative test at the outdoor COVID Testing Center. Contact your local health department to obtain a list of testing locations.

“We appreciate everyone’s understanding and willingness to move the college forward,” said Overstreet. “This strengthens our chances of remaining face-to-face for classes and other essential college functions. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that continues.”

Officials have announced an incentive program through the Higher Education Relief Fund to provide COVID-19 fully vaccinated students with $200.

Students enrolled in at least three credit hours for the fall 2021 semester can provide proof of vaccination and obtain their Fast Pass ID in the library on Tuesday, Sept. 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

IDs can also be obtained on Wednesday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Thursday, Sept. 16, from noon to 4:30 p.m.

Funds can be applied to their JALC account, on a reloadable debit card, direct deposited to a checking or savings account, or check by mail.

After Wednesday, students can provide information to the Human Resource Office C116.


State-and-regional
Lawmakers question enforcement of school mask mandates
  • Updated

SPRINGFIELD – Expressing concern that the Illinois State Board of Education might have overstepped its bounds by threatening to withhold funding from school districts that do not enforce its mask mandate, a legislative panel on Tuesday urged the agency to put its policies into formal rules.

The unanimous vote by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or JCAR, represented one of the few times that Illinois lawmakers have pushed back against the enforcement of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it came after intense questioning of ISBE officials, especially from Republican members of the panel.

Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said he personally has no problem with wearing masks or getting vaccinated and that he encourages others to get vaccinated as well.

“Having said that, I do have concerns with government overreach and those who act outside their authority,” he said. “That is the purpose of our questions today. As one member of JCAR, it is incumbent upon all of us to ask questions to ensure government is acting within its authority and in line with state statute.”

On Aug. 4, Pritzker issued an executive order requiring all public and nonpublic PreK-12 schools to follow joint guidance from ISBE and the Illinois Department of Public Health by requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors at school.

Since then, the state board has taken an aggressive stance in enforcing that rule by either placing districts on probation or, in the case of nonpublic schools, revoking their official state recognition.

According to data from the state board, 47 public school districts have been placed on suspension for refusing to comply, although all but four of them have since agreed to come into compliance. Beecher City CUSD 20, Hutsonville CUSD 1, Cowden-Herrick CUSD 3A and Nauvoo-Colusa CSD 325 remained on probation as of Tuesday, meaning they are at risk of losing state recognition and state funding.

A total of 15 nonpublic school systems have had their state recognition revoked for noncompliance, although six of those have since had their recognition restored. Losing recognition can mean, among other things, that their graduation diplomas are not recognized by state colleges and universities and they are ineligible to take part in interscholastic events.

DeWitte and other Republicans on the panel questioned whether the state board had any statutory or administrative authority to take enforcement action against schools that refuse to comply with “guidance” issued by state agencies.

“Guidance is guidance. Guidance is not a rule,” said Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego. “A rule is enforceable. A statute is enforceable. I don't believe that an executive order is enforceable to the same degree as statute or (a rule).”

But Kristen Kennedy, deputy legal counsel for ISBE, said the agency was relying on an existing administrative rule that says, “A school district shall be placed on probation if it exhibits deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff” as well as Pritzker’s executive order and the joint guidance issued by IDPH and ISBE.

She also cited a 2020 Sangamon County court ruling involving the Hutsonville school district – one of the four public districts still on probation – that held Pritzker’s executive orders and the joint guidance were all legally issued and enforceable.

Wheeler, however, compared ISBE’s actions with the situation lawmakers faced in the early phases of the pandemic, when JCAR pushed back against emergency rules issued by the Department of Public Health that would have allowed for criminal prosecutions of businesses that violated Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order.

“And we went through lots of iterations and hours and hours of discussions trying to land on something that was better than what we started with, and I think we actually did that last year,” he said. “But it was all done by emergency rulemaking. When it comes to how you direct things toward the public, guidance says ‘should’ and rule and law say ‘shall.’ And rarely can you cross over those two, because otherwise there's no point in us having a legislature to oversee these things, to set the policy.”

Soon after that, the panel went into recess behind closed doors. Several minutes later, members emerged and voted on a motion expressing “concern that policies outside of rule may exist” and encouraging ISBE “to place all policy and guidance in rule.” The motion specifically urged ISBE to propose rules that more clearly defined process to be used before revoking a school’s recognition.

The motion passed, 10-0. JCAR’s next scheduled meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Springfield, which is the first day of the General Assembly’s fall veto session.


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