Lincoln's Challenge cadets sent home

The new Lincoln's Challenge Academy campus has seen its share of ups and downs. Construction of the academy was halted twice due to the lack of a state budget. Now the current semester is in hiatus over concerns of COVID-19.

RANTOUL — Like students everywhere, Lincoln’s Challenge Academy cadets will not be continuing classes/duties until at least the end of March. Whether cadets will have to wait to resume classes the next semester remains to be seen.

Illinois National Guard Lt. Col. Brad Leighton said cadets were released to their parents and guardians on Wednesday.

About 125 students comprise this semester’s class — Class 54.

“They’re all back home now,” Leighton said.

He said like most of the rest of the country, the challenges posted by COVID-19 “is all a very sudden thing and challenging.”

“We’re very thankful to the parents and guardians for being very understanding in this unprecedented situation,” Leighton said.

He said the academy staff did its best to meet the needs of all the cadets and their families due to the transition.

Leighton said some people were upset about the developments.

“It’s not something we wanted to do, but given the direction from the state and doing the responsible thing for the health of our cadets,” this is the best decision.

Leighton said there are a number of parents who didn’t expect to have their children back home during this time.

“We’re going to keep those communication channels open to them,” Leighton said. “We promised to reach out to them before the 30th of March when (things are) clearer.”

He said it is too early to tell if the remainder of the semester will be called off.

“There is a possibility (it will be cancelled), and there is a possibility of trying to bring these cadets into the next class,” Leighton said. “That said, if that’s something we try to do, these cadets would certainly not lose any ground. They wouldn’t have to go through the first few days of acclimation or any of that.”

This isn’t the first shutdown at the academy, although earlier shutdowns involved construction, not classes.

Work on the academy’s new campus was stalled for more than a year due to the state having no budget. After being halted in the summer of 2015, work was not resumed until the fall of 2016. Construction was halted again when the Illinois General Assembly did not come up with a new budget.

That roadblock lasted several months through the winter of 2017-18 requiring costly winterization of construction that had already been done. The new campus was finally finished and dedicated in June 2018.

The National Guard and the Illinois Department of Military Affairs are taking precautions to limit the exposure of COVID-19.

Both are implementing temporary closures, different work options for both state and federal employees and curtailments.

For the Department of Military Affairs, some state employees will work from home, be in an “at-home-with-pay” status or flex schedule. Custodial and maintenance will work at night to limit exposure and to maintain facilities.

For the Illinois National Guard, in addition to the Lincoln’s Challenge action, some federal employees will telework from home and within the headquarters building. Flex schedules have been implemented for other workers to limit exposure at close-in facilities.

Most employees will be reporting for work to prepare for forces for any potential domestic response requests.

About 30 soldiers attending two military course at the Regional Training Institute will continue their studies and be sent home after graduation.

The Illinois State Military Museum, Springfield, will remain closed until the end of March. The museum hosts thousands of visitors each month.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com