By Bob Skolnik
Riverside-Brookfield High School is offering both a hybrid instruction plan and a fully remote learning option for the new school year, which begins in two weeks.
But the fully remote learning option will be provided by an outside company specializing in online learning -- not by RBHS faculty. And students who choose the fully remote option will have to stick with it for the entire first semester.
If families choose the hybrid option, students will go to school in person for two mornings a week. The rest of their instruction will be provided online by RBHS faculty.
The decision to offer a hybrid model and a remote option came about after the deliberations of a 19-person COVID-19 transition committee established this summer. The committee included four parents.
"The committee felt it was very important to provide some form of in-person instruction at least two days a week so that students can build relationships and establish some routines with their classroom teachers," said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. "We're uncertain on how long we'll be able to implement this model. Hopefully for first semester but we'll watch it on a day to day basis and if at any time we feel there's a need to go a full remote plan."
Apex Learning providing remote classes
Students who choose the fully remote learning option will have their classes provided by Apex Learning, a privately held company based in Seattle. Apex has provided credit recovery instruction for RBHS for a number of years.
"The COVID-19 Transition Committee believes that teachers cannot appropriately support different instructional models at the same time," RBHS Principal Hector Freytas wrote in a letter emailed to parents on July 31.
Skinkis said an RBHS staff member will provide some support for those taking Apex classes, but those classes will not be taught by RBHS faculty. The school district will pay the $150-per-student licensing fee required to access Apex Learning classes.
"There are online modules and then there are supports from Apex with the instruction of the modules," Skinkis said. "We're going to have an Apex teacher that will help answer questions and get students through the process."
Brookfield resident Pam Goodman, the mother of an RBHS senior, said she's choosing the 100-percent remote option to protect teachers, staff and family.
"I don't think it is fair to ask them to put themselves in harm's way when there are other alternatives," Goodman said, especially since in-person attendees will see each teacher just once a week.
Goodman, however, is not thrilled about having a third party deliver instruction to RBHS students who choose that option.
"I think a very small amount of work over the summer could have pulled out the teachers who are interested in teaching online, and could have pulled out the families who were interested in having their children go through an online program, and they could have been matched up," Goodman said.
Families are being asked to choose between the hybrid option and fully remote option and to inform RBHS of their choice by Aug. 5.
As of early afternoon on Aug. 3, roughly a third of RBHS families had informed the school of their decisions. Skinkis said that a little more than 10 percent of RBHS families had chosen the fully remote learning option.
Peggy Rios, of Brookfield, the mother of sophomore and junior, said she and her husband – both educators themselves – "are torn" about whether to go with the hybrid or remote option. As of Aug 3, they hadn't decided.
"Our issue with the hybrid plan is we don't feel it's safe for any schools to open," said Rios, who is a kindergarten teacher in Lombard. "We're worried that staff or students are going to get really sick and perhaps die. We don't want to see a page in the yearbook for those we lost this year. And we also really believe that within two or three weeks every school in the state is going to shut down. Nobody is going to be able to stay open."
RBHS had not planned to offer a fully remote option alongside its hybrid model, but last week the Illinois State Board of Education mandated that schools offer a remote option for students who cannot attend school in person.
Hybrid classes meet once weekly in person
Under the hybrid model, students will attend classes in person twice a week during the mornings. They will meet in person with the teacher of each class just once a week.
Students whose last names begin with the letter A-L will attend first, second, third, and fourth period classes in person on Tuesday mornings and will attend their fifth, sixth, and seventh period classes in person on Thursday mornings. Students whose last names begin with the letter M through Z will attend classes in person on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
Sack lunches to go will be provided free for students who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program and will be available for purchase by other students.
"Everything will be grab and go," Skinkis said.
Students will spend two afternoons a week having 55-minute class periods online with their teachers and classmates. Teachers will teach from their classrooms.
On Mondays no students will attend classes in person, but all classes will meet for shortened 25-minute periods virtually.
Each class will meet three times a week, once in person and twice online. This will be an increase over the real time connections most students had with their teachers during remote learning last spring. Grades will count and attendance will be taken when classes meet online with their teachers.
Students attending classes at RBHS will not be permitted to use their lockers. Students will not be permitted or allowed to change clothes for gym classes. All activities in Wellness classes will be structured so that they can be performed in school clothes.
Everyone at the school will be required to wear a face covering while in the building. Hallways will be one way and the passing periods will be staggered to reduce traffic in the hallways. There will be a quarantine room for students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or has a temperature of greater than 100.4 degrees.
Hybrid model teacher-dependent
Skinkis said that the ability of RBHS to continue with the hybrid option will depend upon how many teachers take leaves of absences due to health or child care concerns. As of Aug. 3, Skinkis said that four or five teachers had requested leaves of absences for the fall semester.
School will start on Aug. 17, but during the first week students who have signed up for the hybrid option will go to RBHS just one day for orientation. The full hybrid schedule begins Aug. 24.
Parents are now making the difficult choice on whether to send their kids back to school in person.
"The bottom line, I think my kids need to get back into the classroom, but I'm worried about the schedule, the logistics and the virus too," said Riverside resident Riia O'Donnell, the mother of twin daughters who will be juniors at RBHS this year. "I suppose we have to man up and get back sometime, but frankly I was hoping they'd delay the start of the year until this virus had waned significantly. I'd rather have had them back full time in October and stay through July."
Students, who have not attended school in person since March 13, are generally anxious to go back to school in person.
"I think that the RB plan for the new school year encompasses all the concerns that were brought to light by teachers, students and parents," said RBHS senior Michael Ciszewski, who served on the transition committee. "The COVID-19 Transition Committee spent a lot of time and effort working on this plan, and I think that for the time being it will be the best option. I will be doing the hybrid option because I want a strong senior year before I head off to college. The education is also better in person."