Meridian school superintendent: ‘Joy of the job is gone’ as staff buckles under outbreak, mask and vaccine requirements

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STILLMAN VALLEY, Ill. (WTVO) — Highland Elementary School was forced to move to remote learning for a COVID-19 outbreak, adding to what Meridian Superintendent PJ Caposey says has been a difficult year already.

Caposey says the pandemic and public outcry over mask mandate are taking a toll on school staff, and says the interdepartmental text threads are pretty dark right now.

“I don’t remember the last time I felt I could walk out into my community and be proud of the school that we’ve helped create, without being shouted at in grocery stores or yelled at with breakfast with my kids,” he said.

Just three weeks into the school year, Caposey says the joy of his job is gone.

“I would said honestly this has been the hardest two months or two years of my career. The easiest way I can describe it is: all the things that typically bring you joy in the job – you can’t get to right now,” he said.

Twenty-one students tested positive for COVID-19 at Highland, forcing the Stillman Valley school to switch to remote learning at the beginning of the school year.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker says the State is keeping track of those numbers. “The truth is, as kids are getting back to school, and some are just back in school, this is their first week, and it’s important for us to monitor, very closely, as they’re interacting with one another.”

On top of the state’s mask mandate, Pritzker also ordered that all teachers and staff be vaccinated.

Caposey said more hurdles continue to pop up, “because the testing that we have available on site for students, we’re not allowed to use for teachers. We just found out yesterday, at 7 o’clock.”

Caposey says he misses the way things were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we do well, our community does well, and it feels good to be that. All of that is non-existent, right now,” he said.

Stillman Valley High School is also on the Illinois Department of Public Health website for a reported outbreak, and athletics is listed as the source, but Caposey says they don’t know if the football players caught the virus on the field or off-campus.

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