BELLEVILLE, Ill. ( -- Students, teachers and staff within the Diocese of Belleville have been in the classroom for nearly a month, as many other districts remain learning from a distance.

Superintendent Jonathan Birdsong said the Diocese wanted to give parents options at the beginning of the school year. As a result, it offered both in-person instruction and virtual learning. 

According to Birdsong, 90% of students elected to return to the classroom for five days per week of instruction.

“The pieces we’ve put into place that we hoped would work they way they did, they have, and so we feel good about that at this point," he said.

The Diocese requires masks be warn by anyone within any of its 28 school buildings, which includes three high schools and 25 elementary schools that span southern Illinois. It is also getting help from an app called "MiineHealth," which helps smooth out logistical concerns related to letting kids return to buildings safely.

“The manual process each morning was hardest part initially because checking in several hundred or a thousand kids, is not going to be an easy thing, quite honestly, you couldn’t do it," Birdsong said. "So that’s where this really helped us.”

Every morning, parents log onto the app and answer several questions related to possible symptoms or exposure and then take their child's temperature. All of the information is then available to school administrators in a database, allowing them to ensure only healthy students enter the building.

At Our Lady Queen of Peace Elementary School in Belleville, students said they are glad to be back at school.

“I like being in school because I get to see my friends more instead of online,” said fifth grader Mason Phelps.

“It’s been kind of strange because we have to wear a mask and everything,” said fifth grader Emma Brown. "But I like being in person because I can see my friends and it's easier to learn."

Students in their fifth grade class sit separately in rows and wear masks during class. Hand sanitizer is readily available around the room. While in the hallways, students must socially distance and only two people are allowed in the restroom at one time.

Birdsong said the Diocese has seen a few positive cases of COVID-19 and some possible exposures, but said the mitigation efforts in place, combined with contact tracing, makes school a safe place for students and staff.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved


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