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Districts 202, 86 to begin school year with remote learning for all students

By Rex Robinson | 7/28/2020, 6 a.m.
Two large school districts in Will County have pulled back on re-opening for in-class learning in the fall and have ...
Classrooms in two of the larger school districts in Will County will remain empty going into the fall as both announced plans to continue with remote learning for a bit longer as Coronavirus concerns continue to linger.

Two large school districts in Will County have pulled back on re-opening for in-class learning in the fall and have opted to keep students at home a bit longer.

Both Plainfield School District 202 and Joliet Public Schools District 86 released statements Monday night announcing plans to begin the school year with remote learning.

District 202 will start the 2020-21 school year with remote learning on Aug. 31, but could return to in-person learning later this fall if COVID-19 conditions allow, under a proposal approved Monday.

The District 202 Board of Education voted 4-2 to approve a slightly-amended version of the administration’s “Return ‘20” proposed plan to reopen schools this fall.

The safety of students and staff members also remains the top priority in District 86. After monitoring the continued rise of COVID cases across Illinois and reviewing updated data and guidelines, District 86 administrators announced that all students will now begin the 2020-2021 school year in Remote Learning at home.

“This decision was not made lightly.” said Joliet Public Schools District 86 Supt. Dr. Theresa Rouse, “We cannot risk the safety and well-being of our students and employees as the uncertainties of the coronavirus continue to evolve.”

The District 202 board decision comes a week after the original version failed by a 3-3 vote. Board member Robert Smith voted for the amended proposal Monday. Board Secretary David Koch and member Dr. Michael Robey voted against the amended proposal again. Board President Kevin Kirberg, Vice President Rod Westfall and member Heather Drake supported the amended plan.

The amended plan responds to more than 2,300 comments from thousands of parents, staff, students, staff, administrators, and Board members received since July 15 when the Board received the original proposal at a special Committee of the Whole meeting. The Board voted 3-3 shared the district’s original proposal at its July 20 regular meeting.

District 202 Superintendent Dr. Lane Abrell stressed that both versions of the reopening plan prioritize the safety and well-being of District 202 students, families, and staff.

“We know some of our neighboring districts are choosing to start the year with in-person learning,” Abrell said. “We sincerely hope no one anywhere gets sick or worse, but we must be concerned first and foremost about our own students, staff and families.”

Abrell also reiterated that District 202 administration and teachers have worked very hard to improve its Remote Learning plan capabilities and resources after the system did not work as well as hoped last spring.

“We have invested a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to improve our Remote Learning system both for now and for later when we have bad weather,” Abrell said.

The Joliet Grade School District will reassess the situation half way through the first trimester to see if they can safely transition into their Hybrid Learning Model for the second trimester. In the Hybrid Learning Model, student learning occurs both in the school classroom and through remote learning at home.

In the next few weeks, District 86 parents will receive student classroom assignments and schedules. ALL District 86 students (PreKindergarten through Eighth Grade) will receive a District-issued technology device to use at home for the school year. In addition, we will host a Town Hall Zoom meeting on Monday, August 3rd at 12 noon to share more details about this revised Back to School plan. Information on the Zoom meeting will be posted on the District website (www.joliet86.org) and social media accounts.

The first day of school for students is Monday, Aug. 24. Joliet Public Schools District 86, the fourth largest elementary school district in Illinois, serves over 11,000 students from PreKindergarten through eighth grade at 21 schools in the city of Joliet.

The amended “Return ’20 plan for District 202 includes several changes to the original proposal. As now approved:

• Remote learning will start August 31st rather than August 24th, to allow more time to:

◦ buy protective personal equipment and safety-related custodial supplies for when in-person instruction resumes

◦ polish the Remote Learning Plan and

◦ train paraprofessionals who may help deliver remote learning

◦ deliver laptops between August 17-26 to all 6th-12th graders. District administration is still exploring the possibility of giving laptops to 4th and 5th graders

• Among their other responsibilities, teachers are expected to:

◦ Respond to parent or student emails during regular business hours within 24 hours of receipt

◦ Host at least one live Google Hangout, Meet or Zoom meeting each day during school hours, rather than at least one per week.

• Work will continue to plan to bring students back for in-person education as soon as it is safe to do so. To that end:

◦ District and school administration will work with teams, teachers to develop transition activities for certain grade levels of specific student populations to the extend conditions allow. Examples include, but are not limited to “Step Up Days,” etc.

◦ Administration will review COVID-19 conditions and metrics, and neighboring districts’ success with in-person learning in the first four to six weeks of school, rather than the first six weeks, with the goal of returning to school in person for the second quarter if practical. The second quarter starts October 19, 2020.

◦ Administration will give priority consideration to having the most at-risk students return to in-person education first.

Abrell said she fully intends for students to return to in-person learning as soon as possible, depending on the status of the pandemic, he stressed. Remote learning would continue if the pandemic conditions do not improve.

When in-person learning resumes, instruction would be held on either a partial/modified or hybrid schedule depending on circumstances, to limit numbers of students in buildings. Options include A/B schedules and/or blended remote and in-person learning.

Parents will be able to choose whether to send students back to school if in-person learning resumes after the first nine weeks of school.

  In any case, in-person instruction would require robust safety protocols and guidelines, including students and staff wearing masks indoors at all times per current state guidance.

Finally, if conditions significantly improve, students could return to in-person learning in larger, more “normal” numbers, again with robust safety protocols and guidelines.

Parents would still be able to choose whether to send students back to school.