HIGHLAND PARK, IL — As the countdown to the first day of school continues, school officials across the country are drafting protocols for resuming instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic, with many districts developing new ways of blending classroom instruction with remote learning.
After working throughout the summer on ways to welcome students back to campus, administrators in North Shore School District 112 and Township High School District 113 plan to present preliminary plans for returning to school over the next 10 days and continue to solicit feedback from their communities.
District 112 Superintendent Mike Lubelfeld said learning would look different when school begins in September than it did in the spring. He said administrators would discuss the details of the plan at Tuesday's livestreamed board meeting, followed by a a week of faculty meetings and committee of the whole meeting July 28 where the community can offer more feedback.
"The toughest part of this is really keeping the focus on education exclusively, knowing that there will be impacts and implications on families, on the economy, on all of that," Lubelfeld told Patch. "Yet my challenge, my charge and my responsibility is the best education possible for our 4,000 kids."
In Deerfield School District 109, Business Manager John Filippi said the district planned to present a reopening plan to its board on July 27 that included options for three models. One would be fully remote, one would blend remote and in-person instruction and one would be fully in-person.
In District 113, where school is set to begin in Aug. 17, a return to school board committee chaired by Ken Fishbain met four times in 21 days and presented its report at Monday's meeting. The board is expected to finalize a plan at its July 27 meeting.
Michael Lach, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, presented the committee's report to the board. He said the district needed to be imaginative and flexible.
"This is a game of tradeoffs. We all are going to have to make some really difficult decisions," Lach said. "There are no solutions that eliminate risk, and there are no solutions that are easy, straightforward and that we will be able to implement without a host of problems."
Feedback from students of parents was overwhelmingly in favor of onsite instruction with safety precautions. Three online town hall meetings are planed next week to share more information and answer questions.
"The pandemic exacerbates the equity issues facing the district, and not in a good way. It's making them worse," Lach said. "There's all kinds of national data that shows the pandemic is hitting poor families, African America, Latinx families harder than others. Our anecdotal data from the spring matches those concerns."
At the July 13 board meeting, Lach also presented a suggestion to spend $1 million not spent in the 2019-20 fiscal year to hire five new teachers and allow for a new team to offer additional assistance, especially for 9th and 10th grade students.
Parents and staff at Deerfield High School and Highland Park High School will have the option of choosing a fully remote model and a hybrid model. Under the hybrid plan, in-person instruction would be gradually phased in over time.
"If a particular department has teachers who ask for an receive accommodations so they can work remotely, that may mean certain courses are only offered remote or we have to think of a different option or a different strategy for how that works," Lach said.
District 113 Superintendent Bruce Law said there were still a lot of things to be determined in the coming weeks, but if board members agreed on a "remote plus services" option — where all classes stay online but some tutoring, extra-curricular activities and targeted academic services could resume at school buildings — the board would not need to decide an exact date for the restart of in-person instruction.
"There is not a lot of time," Law said. "We need to start communicating this to families and teachers."