July 10, 2020
Dear District 113 Community,
Return to School Committee Chair Ken Fishbain called the July 9 meeting to order and in his report announced that this meeting was the committee’s last. Before getting to his final report, Mr. Fishbain reiterated that no final decisions about returning to school have been made, a point that would be made throughout the meeting. In addition to thanking everyone on the committee for their time and work, he provided a summary of the work the committee has done over the past four meetings. He also urged the community to rally together and to seek to understand the perspective of those who are in a different situation than they are. The full text of his remarks can be found here.
Director of Communications Karen Warner presented a report on the ongoing community engagement efforts around school year 2020-21 including the student and parent survey. This initial survey was to collect opinions based on what was known last week. For the parent/guardian survey there were 1,831 responses and 1,677 student responses. As we expected, the overall preference is for onsite learning with some families indicating that they prefer fully remote learning. What we did not know is to what extent families would prefer either option. Of those who responded, approximately 80 percent indicated that they prefer attending school in person understanding that the safety protocols per the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) guidance would be in place. Of the remaining 20 percent, about 10 percent indicated a preference for fully remote learning and the other 10 percent indicated a preference for a hybrid option or were unsure at this time. After the July 9 RTSC meeting and July 13 Board of Education meeting, we will need to ask parents and students again so that they can react to a more specific recommendation.
Other highlights in the report included that more FAQs have been added to the website, items have been added to the parking lot and that following the discussions the Board has about the return to school on July 13, there will be another round of engagement with stakeholders through surveys and through virtual town hall meetings. Those events will be posted on the SY2020-21 return to school calendar when scheduled and publicized through all of our modalities when details are available.
Director of Facilities and Operations Brian Ahmer provided a report that had recommendations and topics requiring further work. The details of each can be found here. Noteworthy for this summary were the discussions of face coverings and the layout of classrooms. We reported to the committee and will be reporting to the Board of Education at its July 13 meeting that everyone over the age of two will be required to wear a face covering while in our buildings. The only exceptions to wearing a face covering will be when eating, drinking, or when not wearing one is medically necessary. We are working with legal counsel to write a policy to present to the Board for approval that will require face coverings, and that policy will address ramifications for those who do not comply for reasons that are not covered by a documented medical exemption. A policy requiring that everyone wear face coverings is consistent with ISBE/IDPH guidance.
The second noteworthy item from his report was the layout of classrooms observing six feet of distance, which is also consistent with ISBE and IDPH guidance. We can fit 28 student desks in a standard classroom of 900 square feet. When those desks and the teacher are six feet apart, that number drops to 15. That number represents the maximum number of students we could have in a classroom—on paper. That number does not take into account the non-standard classrooms or the rooms that we do not typically use for classrooms but could, and even in a standard classroom it assumes that there is no movement in the classroom. Work is ongoing to determine the occupancy of each instructional space, one by one.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael Lach presented a report that included a recommendation for how to return to school, which will go to the Board July 13 for discussion—not a vote. First, families will have a choice between remote learning and a “hybrid” configuration of school. Many school districts are using the term hybrid to describe instruction that is partly remote and partly onsite. We are using the term to describe two steps in returning to school. For parents who do not choose remote learning, we are recommending that the first step August 17 be “remote learning plus services.” Instruction would be delivered remotely, but there would be some students onsite to receive services, e.g., co-curriculars, tutoring, special education, etc. We have yet to determine which services will be available.
After a period of time the length of which has not yet been determined, in the next step we will begin bringing more students back for onsite instruction so that our hybrid model now has a rotation of some students learning onsite while others are learn remotely. This will allow us to follow ISBE/IDPH social distancing guidance described above. The timing of that second step will need to be announced for everyone’s planning purposes, but we all know that the only predictable thing about this pandemic is the unexpected turns it forces us to make. The one option we know we will not have on August 17 is 100 percent of the students and staff onsite 100 percent of the time.
To see the details of the report Dr. Lach presented, click here.
As our work progresses on facilities, operations, and instructional issues, it is a good time to get input and feedback from the Board of Education and the next step is to discuss with the Board this concept of returning to school. At the end of July or early August, the Board will be asked to approve the plan with details for implementing it. After we discuss this concept with the Board, we will engage the staff, students, and parents to ask them what they think. We are planning virtual town hall meetings to be able to hear from all stakeholders and answer questions. The Return to School Committee was invaluable for shaping our work to this point. Their input, suggestions, and discussions have made our recommendations better. Before we present a final plan to the Board, we will give the District 113 community opportunities to provide input and suggestions and to engage in a discussion about returning to school in a way that has impactful instruction and holds safety for everyone, students and staff, as our highest priority.
Bruce Law, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
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