New Trier High School Board Approves 'Ladder To Reopening Plan'

·4 min read

NORTHFIELD, IL — The New Trier High School board approved a phased reopening plan with a target of gradually allowing students and teachers back to the classroom next month.

At a special meeting Aug. 12, board members voted 6-1 to sign off on the administration's six-step plan with that could ramp up from fully remote instruction to a hybrid of in-person and e-learning with 10 percent of students on campus in September, and then with up to 25 percent in classrooms by mid-October.

Superintendent Paul Sally said a newly formed reopening advisory board would meet, starting this week, to discuss which metrics district officials will use to inform decisions to move forward or backwards between the phases.

"The centerpiece of our reopening plan is a ladder to reopening that uses indicators, methods and thresholds to determine the mode of operation best suited at that particular time of year," Sally said.

The superintendent said he had hoped to receive more specific public health advice on safely reopening schools from the Illinois and Cook County departments of public health. Instead, the health departments have provided "little or no guidance," he said, leaving local districts on their own to forge their own pandemic education plans.

"There are truly no good solutions," Sally said. "Nothing we do tonight will give us the kind of school year our students deserve, but you can be assured that we will continue to work toward the best possible solutions to help our students connect, grow and thrive throughout the year.”

Assistant Superintendent Peter Tragos said the district's reopening plan would allow either for gradual movement toward in-person learning or a rapid return to fully remote instruction.

"A principle of this to think about is: 'Up slow, down fast,'" Tragos said. "So, we want to move up the ladder deliberately, thoughtfully, in accordance with the health guidelines and the metrics."

The as-yet undetermined metrics will take into account numbers of local and regional coronavirus cases, levels of available staffing, how well social distancing measures are being followed, limitations on supplies or facilities and emerging scientific research, Sally explained.

"It's contingent on what's going on with the virus in our area. How many students have the virus? How many students have had to quarantine? This is information that we will have to use along the way, and we will do so," Sally said.

The reopening advisory board is set to have two parents, two students, two medical experts, two board members, four administrators, four teachers union representatives and three representatives from other staff unions. The names of appointees to the new board have not been publicly released.

"Myself and this board will rely on good data, on good science, in order to create these metrics and we'll be clear where they're coming from," the superintendent said.

It was not clear from materials presented to the board whether the district is treating the new advisory board as a committee of the school board under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, which would require it conduct its business with the transparency requirements of a public body. Any response to an inquiry regarding its status will be added here when received.

Board President Cathleen Albrecht was joined by Keith Dronen, Carol Ducommun, Marc Glucksman, Jean Hahn and Greg Robitaille in voting in favor of the plan. Board member Brad McLane, who said he was "close" but "not there yet," was the lone vote against.

Ahead of the vote, Albrecht said the plan includes target dates and will be reevaluated as the year gets underway.

"This year will be a hard year requiring patience from all of us as we rework education as we knew it. This reopening plan sets us on a course that is flexible enough to adjust to current conditions as they present," Ducommun said.

"With this plan we have a path to in-person learning that will use science, metrics, caution and determination," she said. "And yet that won't relieve any of us from making the difficult decisions during the year as parents, students, faculty, staff, the superintendent and administrators and this board, all in the best interests of excellence in our New Trier education community and, of course, for our physical and mental well-being."

Read: Complete NTHS Reopening and Operational Plan for 2020-21 School Year »
View: Slides from presentation from Aug. 12 special board meeting »
Watch: full New Trier High School Board Aug. 12 Special Meeting »

This article originally appeared on the Winnetka-Glencoe Patch