WINNETKA, IL — With six weeks to go before the scheduled start of the school year, it is uncharted territory for educators at New Trier High School. Like school district leaders across the state, administrators are hoping for the best — but preparing for the worst — as they draft plans for the return of students and staff amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, the New Trier High School Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to begin the school year with a mix of remote learning and in-person instruction, a revised 2020-21 school year calendar and tentative budget.
Masks will be mandatory. The school's more than 4,000 students will be split into two groups to keep school buildings below 50 percent capacity. And the school day will be extended by 15 minutes, according to the plan.
After a week of remote learning to start the year, most students would attend one day of classes in the first week of September and get accustomed to the new way of doing things.
If all goes well, attendance could increase to 50 percent after Labor Day, according to a memo to the board from Superintendent Paul Sally outlining the reopening plan.
"Throughout the year, operational plans may change," Sally said. "If the situation improves and guidance shows that we can increase capacity without compromising safety, we will work to gradually bring more students back on campus. If COVID-19 cases occur among our students or staff, we may need to shift to remote instruction for some or all students."
Sally said classrooms at the district's Northfield and Winnetka school buildings have been reconfigured to allow for 6 feet of space between students and Plexiglas barriers between students and teachers when they have to be closer. Teachers will be provided face shields.
While most teachers will be on campus in their assigned classroom, some may instead teach through video-teleconferencing and remote learning software. Students on campus will either be in the classroom with a substitute teacher or in some other supervised space at the time, Sally explained.
Any staff or student who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to report the result to the school's health office and abide by the district's quarantine and reentry requirements, according to the superintendent's memo.
Sally said the specifics of the quarantine plan's requirements are expected by the end of the month. Administrators are also developing a procedure for every student, employee and visitor to "self-certify that they are symptom free before entering the building."
Anyone who needs an accommodation in regard to the district's requirement to wear face coverings whenever indoors or outside and within 6 feet of other people must fill out a form and get a note from a physician outlining why they are unable to don a mask.
Families can choose not to send a student to school for any reason. An "Opt Out" form will be available Wednesday and must be submitted by July 31, according to Sally.
Those who opt out will have a full schedule of remote learning. The superintendent said the curriculum will match classroom instruction as much as possible.
"At the beginning of each quarter," Sally said, "families will have the choice to engage for that quarter in the in-school learning option that is available at the time."
Sally also presented a new calendar with four fewer attendance days to accommodate the changes to the classroom schedule and state requirements.
The tentative budget approved Monday "reflects the significant challenges facing the district during this uncertain and unprecedented climate due to the COVID pandemic," according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Johnson. "As we have done in the past, a conservative approach in both revenues and expenditures has been taken."
The new budget, scheduled for a public hearing at the board's Sept. 21 meeting, anticipates a surplus of nearly $300,000.
Property tax revenue, which makes up 90 percent of the district's income, is projected to increase by more than $2.5 million this year, according to Johnson. Meanwhile, the district's revenue from other local sources like facilities rental, fees and offering food service is down nearly $2.5 million.
Salaries— which make up about two-third of the budget, not counting benefits — are expected to rise by 4.43 percent compared to last year, despite having the equivalent of nine fewer non-certified full-time staff members and a reduction of the equivalent of over three full-time teachers.