YORKVILLE – Yorkville School District 115 officials continue to review possible plans for school resuming in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic after the Illinois State Board of Education announced its related newly released guidelines – and the goal is to have those plans brought before school board officials by the end of next month.
The Illinois State Board of Education released a 60-page report on Tuesday, June 23, that details what a return to school might look like for the coming year. That includes Illinois’ more than 800 school districts being prepared to move from in-person to remote learning at any time, should any COVID-19 pandemic surges occur.
Nick Baughman, associate superintendent for learning and instruction for the district, said on Tuesday, June 23 it's a little too early to tell exactly what the details are going to be for e-learning, in-person instruction with restrictions and blended learning, meaning a combination of e-learning and in-person. He said the district's goal is to maintain fluidity and flexibility between the three scenarios depending on circumstances possibly changing month by month – whether that's determined by orders from Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker or state health officials – and to have some clear expectations and guidelines for families in place.
“But we are preparing for all scenarios,” Baughman said.
Baughman said next steps include school district officials having more discussion with community members about the plans through July and then to bring a final recommendation before the district's Board of Education. In the meantime, he said, the district will be hosting some community events to get more feedback from families, with more details on those events to come.
“Realistically, our goal is to have all three plans … solidified by, or at least presented to the [school] board for consideration, at the end of July board meeting,” Baughman said, referring to the school board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. July 27.
Baughman said the premise of the hybrid learning model is to still be able to have smaller in-person learning groups on top of e-learning if the state moves back to Phase 1 or Phase 2 of its Restore Illinois plan. Beyond that, he said, it's still unclear what exactly that model will look like within the district for the fall.
Baughman said the district also is aiming to provide families more flexibility and choice and taking into consideration the individual needs of learners, along with family health needs.
Baughman said he is unsure what total cost is looking like for the district in regards to personal protective equipment, or PPE, and cleaning supplies. However, he said, the district was awarded roughly $300,000 in CARES Act funding that can cover anything related to those expenditures.
Baughman said the district also has provided families portable devices to give families internet access for e-learning and distributed devices to early childhood through third grade families who still needed one during the pandemic. He said that type of support would continue into the fall.
“Equality and access to learning sources has been one of our top priorities,” Baughman said.
Baughman's additional comments come after he and other school officials gave a presentation to the district's Board of Education about what district stakeholders have been considering for the fall so far, including details for the three instruction scenarios, during the school board meeting on Monday, June 22.
District officials said during the meeting considerations also include planned increased hygiene and sanitation in schools in the event of in-person instruction.
Baughman said a lot of those considerations for the upcoming school year came out of responses from a survey that was issued to students and families at end of the last quarter.
Pete Marcelo, assistant superintendent of student and business services for the district, said during the Monday meeting the district also is anticipating the plans for the fall to include the district keeping in contact with families of students with special needs. When asked whether those concessions could include face-to-face instruction, he said it would depend on what phase the state is in its re-opening plan.
Marcelo also said the district still is taking under consideration any additional requirements that may arise regarding HVAC filtration systems within school buildings and student vaccinations.
"We're waiting to see what the state has to say about that," Marcelo said.
Marcelo said the district also plans to continue to stay in touch with any other social-emotional concerns for students and families, especially if there's an extended period of time where a school doesn't hear from a student. He noted that is something to consider to help prevent student loneliness in remote learning.
School board president Lynn Burks said she appreciates administration noting those social-emotional and psychological concerns in the plan for e-learning especially, since it involves a much more cognitive presence than in-person instruction does.
"I think that's a big part of it," Burks said. "Even if it's remote or blended, I think we have some potential opportunities there."