By Bob Skolnik
Families in both Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 and LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 will have the choice to send their children to school for half days when school opens next month or keep their kids at home for 100-percent remote learning.
Officials from the two districts revealed their plans last week. At a special meeting on July 21, the District 95 school board listened to administrators outline and explain their plan for about two hours before unanimously approving the plan. District 102 released its plan on July 23.
The hybrid models ensure that class sizes will be small enough to maintain state-mandated social distancing guidelines for students in a classroom. Students and teachers will have to wear face coverings inside the school building unless they have a medical reason not to do so.
District 95 originally planned to implement an in-person program this year, but that proved impossible to do while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
"We were trying to establish an in-person, all-in model and as we started to go through it, there was just no way to safely do it," said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.
Quick decision for parents
Parents in District 95 had until July 28 to turn in a questionnaire and choose either the hybrid or remote option. If a parent chooses the remote option, the student will have to stay in the remote option for the entire first quarter.
If a family chooses the hybrid option the family can shift to the remote option with three days' notice, but then must stay in the remote option for the rest of the quarter.
Kuzniewski said it was vital for parents to make their preferences known quickly, so that administrators could establish the cohorts and divide staff between the hybrid and remote options.
The district will, if parents wish, keep siblings on the same schedule, either morning or afternoon in the hybrid model, and try to take into account shared child care arrangements and geographical proximity.
"We will do the best we can to accommodate their preferences, but no guarantees," Kuzniewski said.
District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher also said that having students attend school for half a day, essentially splitting classes in half, was the only way in-person instruction could occur under the mandates issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education.
"We looked at the options that were available to us and how we could best meet the IDPH and ISBE guidelines for social distancing," Schumacher said. "The only way we could do that and have kids in school was to reduce the number of students in our schools."
Kuzniewski said he thought it was important to have some in-person instruction, although parents who don't feel comfortable sending their children to school can choose the 100-percent remote learning option.
"It allows staff to have eyes on students every day," Kuzniewski said.
Kuzniewski said in a survey compiled this summer, approximately 20 percent of parents said they did not want to send their children back to school this fall for in-person learning. Another 28 percent said they were unsure about sending their kids back to school.
If parents in either school district choose the hybrid option, their children will attend either a morning or afternoon session in a classroom and spend the rest of the day learning remotely.
In District 95, the in-person sessions will last for 2.5 hours. In District 102 the classroom sessions will last for three hours.
Students will be grouped in cohorts and no more than 14 students will typically be in a classroom at the same time in District 95. In District 102, classes will be limited to 10 to 15 students.
Desks in classrooms will be set up so that students remain at least six feet apart. Students will not be allowed to share materials.
District 95 students in the hybrid model will be at school either from 8 to 10:30 a.m. or from noon until 2:30 p.m.
At Congress Park School in District 102, students who are in the hybrid model will attend school from 8:15 to 11:15 a.m. or from 12:15 to 3:15 p.m. Classrooms will be cleaned and sanitized between the afternoon sessions.
In District 95, special education students will get additional services between the morning and afternoon sessions.
Focus on core subjects
In both districts, the in-person classroom instruction will focus on core subjects. At Brook Park School in District 95 students will start their day with a morning meeting and then have 45 minutes of instruction in math and 70 minutes of instruction in reading and literacy.
Science, social studies, art and music will be taught completely remotely in District 95 and all elective classes will taught remotely.
At Congress Park School in District 102, students will focus on math, language arts and social emotional learning while in school, but they'll also get 30 minutes of instruction a day in special subjects like art and music.
No bus service will be provided in District 95.
"We just cannot safely provide bus transportation at this time," Kuzniewski said.
Schumacher said there will be bus service to school for the morning session and bus service after the afternoon session in District 102.
Students who either cannot get home after the morning session or get to school for afternoon session can spend the rest of the day at school in a supervised session, doing their remote learning work at the school.
There will be no recess. In District 95 sack lunches to-go will be given to students at the end of the morning and afternoon sessions. In District 102, lunches will be provided only to those students who stay the entire day.
Remote learners must engage
Students in the hybrid model are expected to engage and do work daily at home in the remote portion of the day, but that will be generally without direct teacher interaction.
At S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield, students will stay in the same classroom throughout their session and teachers for different subjects will come to them.
At Park Junior High School in LaGrange Park, most students will stay in the same classroom during their sessions, but there might be some limited movement.
"When we can, we are going to leave students in the same classroom," Schumacher said. "There may be times, just because we have different levels of math or language arts, when kids might have to move."
Students in the 100-percent remote learning option and students doing remote learning as part of the hybrid or blended model will find expectations and standards to be more demanding than they were last spring when schools closed because of the pandemic.
"There will be much more feedback; there will be much checking in with us," said S.E. Gross School Principal Ryan Evans.
And grades will count.
If a child in District 95 hybrid model tests positive for COVID-19, the child will be removed from the class and the entire cohort and the teacher will have to quarantine for 14 days.