The decision to allow parent volunteers back into District 96 school buildings was prompted principally by their importance in helping build sets for theatrical productions like “Beauty and the Beast” (above) which the school staged in 2016. | FILE

Parents are once again allowed to volunteer in Riverside Elementary District 96 schools — subject to the approval of each school’s principal.

The fall play at L.J. Hauser Junior High School was the precipitating factor in causing District 96 to review the ban on parent volunteers, which has been in place since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Traditionally at Hauser, parents build the sets for the middle school plays and district officials realized they couldn’t do that if they were not allowed inside the school. 

“We realized that if we didn’t have parent volunteers it was unclear if we could do the play without them,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. “That was kind of our turning point, we need parent volunteers. Let’s think through all our health and safety protocols [and ensure] there is a way we can do this safely. Obviously, we are looking at vaccine status, mask wearing is required, social distancing is required.”

Parents will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be allowed to volunteer in a District 96 school. 

Through the years parent volunteers have come into schools, usually elementary schools, to read to students, to do crafts and to do a host of other things.

“We value parent volunteers as providing those enriching opportunities in our schools,” Ryan-Toye said.

But Ryan-Toye is leaving it up to each school’s principal to decide if and when to allow parents to volunteer at their school.

“The determination and the need for volunteers is really at the principals’ discretion,” Ryan-Toye said.

Hauser’s fall play this year is “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” and it will be performed on Nov. 15 and Nov. 16. But, because of the pandemic, only family members of cast members will be allowed inside the auditorium to see the play.

Ryan-Toye said she expects parent volunteering to ramp up slowly. The school district will see how it goes and reserves the right to cut back or eliminate parent volunteering if conditions make that necessary.

“If the need isn’t that great or we can’t meet the health and safety protocols then we’ll put that plan on the sideline,” Ryan-Toye said. “It’s not totally back to business as usual; it’s where there’s a need and where we can address the health and safety appropriately.”

For the past two years some room parents have been doing activities virtually, Ryan-Toye said.

The new policy allowing volunteers in District 96 officially went into effect on Nov. 1.

Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said his district has no plans at this time to allow parent volunteers back into its two schools, Brook Park Elementary School and S.E. Gross Middle School.