In a stunning reversal less than 72 hours after the District 208 school board unanimously voted to approve in-person learning to start the school year, Riverside-Brookfield High School officials announced Friday that all students would attend classes remotely for at least the first quarter of the new school year, which starts Aug.17.
Making the switch to all remote learning follows the lead of Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale high schools and Downers Grove North and South high schools, which decided Thursday to switch to an all-remote start for 2020-21.
District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis said new guidelines issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on Aug. 12, the day after the unanimous school board vote, made the hybrid start unworkable.
“New guidelines came out from the IDPH and the timing of them and the ability to align with the new guidance is not a manageable process at this time,” Skinkis told the Landmark in a brief telephone interview Friday afternoon.
RBHS teachers had pushed hard for a remote start, with about 100 people rallying in front of the school of on Aug. 11 to demand a 100-percent remote start to the school year.
Nearly 88 percent of RBHS students had signed up for the hybrid model, and many students wanted to return to attending school in person.
“The new guidelines sent out by the IDPH have made the hybrid model unrealistic at this point. Therefore, even though many of my peers will be disappointed in this decision, it is what is best for the safety of the community and students,” said RBHS senior Michael Ciszewski, a student representative to the school board. “While we wanted to return to school, we will have to wait for now.”
Tricia McVicker, a parent member of the school’s COVID-19 transition committee who had chosen the hybrid plan for her daughter, expressed disappointment and frustration with the state’s new guidelines.
“I’m devastated as is my daughter,” McVicker said. “Having said that, ISBE made it impossible for schools to open. On Wednesday at about 4 p.m., ISBE sent out new guidelines that are unattainable for any school. The requirements they are implementing with respect to contact tracing are more than any school could handle.”
Each RBHS student will attend school for a half day next week for an orientation session with remote classes beginning Aug. 24.
The remote learning plan this fall will be beefed up and is expected to be much more rigorous than what was offered last spring.
The 110 students who had selected the fully remote option under the old plan will no longer be taught by Apex Learning, a third-party provider of computerized education.
Instead those students will, like their peers who’d chosen the hybrid plan, will be taught by RBHS faculty.
As of now three local elementary school districts, Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, Riverside Elementary District 96 and LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 are the only local school districts planning to offer in-person learning this fall.
RBHS will provide remote instruction for at least the first academic quarter of the school year.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to creating a plan to get students back on campus at some point this school year,” Skinkis wrote in an email sent out to families Friday afternoon. “The safety of our staff, students, and community have made this the appropriate decision at this time.”