Students in Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 will not return to full-day, in-person school this academic year.
After facing pressure last month from some parents for the district to switch to a full-day school as soon as possible, District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski announced on Feb. 28 in an email to parents that the district will continue with its hybrid learning model and a fully remote option for the remainder of the school year.
“We will be focused on creating a reopening plan with the goal of full in-person instruction in the fall,” Kuzniewski wrote. “Further, we will explore options as to if and how time during the summer may be used to address student needs.”
At last month’s school board meeting, a number of parents urged the district to switch to full-day school or to at least survey the community to see what parents thought about returning to full-day school.
But Kuzniewski and the school board decided that it was too difficult to move from its hybrid model of a half day of in-person instruction to full-day school for the final months of 2020-21.
“Kids would be changing teachers at the elementary building and we would have to reduce significantly our six-foot social distancing requirement,” Kuzniewski said in a telephone interview with the Landmark.
The reduction in social distancing by having more kids in a classroom would require more students to quarantine if they were in a class with a student who tested positive for COVID-19.
“We would have to quarantine that entire class,” Kuzniewski said. “The amount of absenteeism that we could face, we weren’t ready to do that.”
Kuzniewski said that with the school year ending in late May it wasn’t worth it to make such a drastic change now. District 95 has had a hybrid model with a remote option for the entire school year.
“We didn’t see that that type of disruption warranted trying to get back to a full, in-person model,” Kuzniewski said.
Kuzniewski said state-mandated academic testing will consume much of April, making the logistical challenges even more daunting. To change to full, in-person school this far into the school year would be a difficult process.
“We’ve kind of analogized it with making this transition is like turning a large ship,” Kuzniewski said. “You turn the wheel and it takes a while to go. You just don’t turn over tomorrow and we’re in full in-person. If we were having this conversation back in November, yeah maybe, but not in talking about coming back after spring break in April.”
Kuzniewski and the school board had reached a consensus that sticking with the hybrid model for the rest of the current school year was the right decision and said that he wanted to be honest and upfront about that.
The decision to stick with hybrid learning has not been universally well received, and Kuzniewski said the district has received some harsh emails.
On March 4, District 95 school board President Scott Encher sent a letter to parents explaining the decision and warning against harassment.
“As we witness other communities becoming divided by this emotional topic, it is our deepest hope that the D95 community will remain committed to being unified,” Encher wrote. “We encourage respectful disagreement and welcome the positive stories you share about your D95 experiences. Harassment, insults, and intimidation have never been the D95 way and will only divide our community when we need to remain together.”
Kuzniewski said that he and the school board must make difficult decisions.
“My responsibility is to provide the instructional model that the organization is equipped to handle,” Kuzniewski said. “The will of the community doesn’t mean we do a survey. The board represents the community.”
Melissa Biskupic, president of the Gross PTO and a nurse who spoke in favor of returning to in-person last month said she accepts the administration’s explanation of the difficulties for making that happen to end the school year.
“I have a lot of respect for the school board, the administrators and the staff in District 95, and if they tell me that it would be too disruptive to return to school this year I believe that they have the best interest of the children at heart,” Biskupic said. “What I’m happy about is that we have started the conversation and now as a team, collaboratively, we can move toward discussing and getting these kids back to school in the fall.”
Kuzniewski said that while in-person instruction is best, students have been learning this year despite the limitations of the hybrid model, which features 2.5 hours of in-person instruction each day along with remote learning.
“By and large we’re doing as well of a job as could be expected in a hybrid model,” Kuzniewski said. “Our kids are learning, they’re happy, we have opportunities for kids to participate in clubs after school, we’re getting social-emotional learning addressed through getting kids involved, we’re live streaming. So, we’ve really gotten the system down and to shift gears and to have the chaos that would come with that didn’t make sense.”
D96 mulls full-day school
Other area school districts are wrestling with the same decision. On March 3, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education spent nearly all of its two-hour meeting discussing the same issue, whether to pivot from hybrid learning to full-day instruction.
The board heard public comments from 14 parents, all supporting a switch to full-day instruction for elementary school students and complaining that 2.5 hours of in-person instruction was not enough.
But in a lengthy presentation to the school board the District 96 administrators pointed out all the difficulties switching to full-day instruction in the elementary schools. The administration and school board left the door open to perhaps switching to full-day instruction in April.