L.J. Hauser Junior High School (Courtesy of Riverside D96/ Hauser Jr. High)

Hybrid students at L.J. Hauser Junior High School will have the opportunity to attend school in person four days a week starting with the beginning of third trimester next month. 

The new schedule will take effect during the week of March 8. Hauser hybrid students have been attending school in person twice a week with a shortened schedule.

“Extra learning spaces have been created along with some adjustments to student cohorts make this possible,” Hauser Principal April Mahy and Assistant Principal Chris Harvalis wrote in an email to parents sent on Feb. 12.

For now, at least, there are no plans to change the schedule for hybrid elementary school students who go to school in person for 2.5 hours a day, five days a week. That is not enough for most of the parents who made public comments at the Feb. 17 meeting of the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education. 

The parents welcomed the move at Hauser, but they said elementary school students need more in-person instruction, too, and called for the school district to move to a full, in-person school day as soon as possible.

“I, along with many others, feel that two and a half hours of instructional time for K-5 students in our district just simply isn’t sufficient,” said Michelle Udelson, who spoke in person at the school board meeting held at Ames School. 

Those elementary students in the hybrid model attend classes in person for 2.5 hours five days a week. The rest of the instruction is done remotely.

That remote instruction, 30 minutes of which is typically face-to-face with a teacher, has been uneven, Udelson told the school board.

“Our experience with this at Ames has been very mixed,” Udelson said. “Sometimes those 30-minute Zoom classes and lessons are lively, engaging, motivating. Other times some of these specials do not meet for two to four weeks at a time. Often it feels like busywork to fill the time rather than an educational experience.”

Udelson said that children need more face time with teachers.

“I do believe that we can do better for our students,” Udelson said. “We as parents don’t want more busywork or app assignments, but instruction and teacher-and-student interaction.” 

“Evidence suggests that distance learning has had disastrous consequences for students.”

Carrie Zalewski

Carrie Zalewski, whose public comment was made via an email to the board, also called for the more in person school. Zalewski has four children who attend Ames School.

“Evidence suggests that distance learning has had disastrous consequences for students,” Zalewski said through school board President Dan Hunt, who read the email aloud.

Zalewski said that children are missing out, especially in developing social-emotional skills and she believes it is safe for students to return to school for a full day.

“We know about controlling the virus than we did in the fall, namely that masks, social distancing and handwashing work,” Zalewski wrote. “Add to this that teachers are now eligible to get the vaccine and that we are doing rapid testing, the choice is clear. … The D96 kids need to get back into the classroom fulltime ASAP. 

Gretchen and Tom Lupfer also made a public comment by email, saying that they wanted the district to return to five days of week of full day, in-person instruction as soon as possible.

“I believe we that can bring our children, K through 8, back into school full time in a safe manner,” Gretchen Lupfer wrote. “Many other districts are doing it, even without saliva testing. So can we.”

Rory Dominick, another parent, also called for a shift to more in-person instruction.

“The reality today is many kids are isolated,” Dominick wrote. “They are alone, they are sad, and we are teetering on a depression pandemic. It is now time to return to full day in person learning.”

Dominick called for the district to survey parents to know what they want and what their risk tolerance is.

District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said the district plans to survey parents soon.

“I appreciate where parents are coming from,” Ryan-Toye said. “There is a question of how many parents feel that way, so I think we will plan to go forward with a survey just asking parents.”

But Ryan-Toye said that a shift to full-day instruction at the elementary schools would be fraught with difficulties and would require a reduction in the six feet of social distancing that is now observed and would result in some children having different teachers. 

Currently, elementary teachers teaching hybrid students teach one group in the morning and another in the afternoon.

“I do think that there are mixed opinions on this and it is important to know where the community is,” Ryan-Toye told the Landmark. “Even once we know where the community is, there are still great challenges in making shifts and changes.”

About 67 percent of elementary school students in District 96 are enrolled in the hybrid model, with about 33 percent attending school completely remotely. 

But some families have notified the district that their children will be switching from remote to hybrid learning for the third trimester. When the third trimester begins, according to the district, about 71 percent of elementary school students will be enrolled in the hybrid option.