U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood toured Liberty Elementary School in Bolingbrook Wednesday to learn about how Plainfield District 202 is handling a new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While District 202 opted to begin the year with remote learning due to worsening public health conditions, some teachers showed Underwood how they've reconfigured their classrooms for when students return in person.
District officials began a tour of the school by showing Underwood how visitors are required to scan in with a QR code on their smart phone where they answer basic health screening questions before they enter a building.
Superintendent Lane Abrell told Underwood about how the pandemic had created new costs for the district, including about $50,000 to operate remote learning platforms.
"We're a large, large school district and ... in a multimillion dollar budget that sounds like a very small amount, but when you start adding all those little bread crumbs up," he said.
"It's significant," Underwood said.
"It is," Abrell agreed.
District officials gave other examples of how much more they were spending on supplies for remote learning for a student population of over 26,000.
Abrell said just for purchasing hot spots for students to have internet access at home, the district spent about $750,000. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Tony Arbogast said the cost of new computers for students was nearly $7 million.
"Because we're huge, the needs were and are huge," Abrell said.
Underwood thanked the school officials for being candid about the extra efforts required even before students ever come into their buildings. She highlighted the latest COVID-19 relief bill the House of Representatives passed back in May which includes about $375 billion for local governments.
The Republican-controlled Senate has yet to pass another relief bill of its own. Underwood conceded that the process for passing a bill with more funding was frustrating.
"I am committed to returning to Washington to vote on COVID relief," she said. "We see the need all across this community."
She also pointed to the House bill's provision for a second round of stimulus checks to help families maintain their basic needs, such as food and housing.
District 202 spokesman Tom Hernandez said there was "tremendous need" even in District 202 where about a quarter of its students are considered low income. He said the funding was not just important for teaching, but also for providing basic essentials like meals.