Elgin School District U46 faces staff shortages as students return to class Monday

ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- Students at School District U46 in Elgin made a long-awaited return to the classroom Monday, but this year comes with some staffing challenges.

The school district is the second largest in Illinois. COVID safety protocols are in place, including a mask requirement as part of Governor JB Pritzker's executive order.

The district has partnered with the University of Illinois to test unvaccinated students, teachers and staff members. Parents are encouraged to get their students vaccinated as soon as they're eligible.

At Kenyon Woods Middle School, there was celebration as students return to class full time. It's a return that's been in the making for a year and a half now.

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"This year, to have all 37,000 students re entering our schools, albeit with masks and social distancing, it feels like a dream come true," said U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders.

"I mean it feels good," said Ramon Hill, a senior at Elgin High School. "It's my last year so, you know I gotta enjoy it."

It's a school year with specific protocols in place to keep everyone safe, like shrinking class sizes and requiring a face mask for all students and staff.

Even with those safety measures, some parents are still uneasy about the return to class.

RELATED: How masks impact the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant in a classroom

"I don't think they're ready for it but whatever I guess," said Erica Zapata, parent of an Elgin HS student.

Superintendent Sanders says schools are a safe place to be, but he understands the hurdles ahead.

"That does not mean we will not have COVID cases ...even when we were closed we had cases of COVID but we're gonna do our best to mitigate that," Sanders said.

The district also faces some challenges with staffing shortages, caused by a combination of retirements and COVID-19 restrictions. But Sanders said all classes are covered to start the year.

"We had to bring in sub teachers obviously, some long term subs who graciously come back," Sanders said. "Bus drivers, every bus had a bus driver today so we will make do."

The staff members that are there are just happy to teach these kids in person again.

"I feel so happy to come back again and start working with these kids," said Carmen Briencza, a special education teacher. "I really missed them last year."

Students in several other local school districts are heading back to the classroom Monday. It's the first day of school for Thornton Township, Schaumburg and Oak Park River Forest.
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