Following the footsteps of Stevenson High School District 125, Township High School District 211, Barrington 220 School District, Arlington Heights School District 25 and more; Township High School District 214 has announced that high school district will begin the 2020-21 school year with remote or distance learning with a slow progression that eventually allows parents to decide if their students will be at school or at home for their education. Under the original plan for 2020-21, parents would have had the decision on Day 1 of the school year, but it became clear District 214 would be unable to implement the original Flexible Learning Plan with Remote Options — which would have allowed for a daily choice of remote or in-person learning.
As of Wednesday night, there was no announcement or information referral regarding today’s latest update on District 214’s official Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Following a meeting of board members Wednesday morning, August 5, 2020, District 214 Superintendent David R. Schuler, Ph.D. sent the following letter to parents on Wednesday afternoon.
Dear Parents and Guardians:
I want to thank you for your patience as we have been working to refine our return to school plans. I am sharing the presentation video and plan that was shared at our Board of Education meeting this morning.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in which we live. Specifically for those of us in High School District 214, it has changed the way we teach and the way we learn.
What hasn’t changed is our commitment to delivering a high-quality, engaging and relevant education that will ensure every student is college, career and life ready when they graduate.
While the state has not officially announced a capacity limit on schools as it has with restaurants and other businesses, current guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) have updated guidance regarding the number of individuals who are allowed in a gathering space in schools. For all practical purposes, this updated guidance significantly limits the number of students allowed in a building. Despite our previous planning efforts, it is clear at this time we are unable to implement our original Flexible Learning Plan with Remote Options as we had hoped — which would have allowed for a daily choice of remote or in-person learning. Instead, we will be implementing a plan that slowly, over time, allows parents to decide if their students will be at school or at home. As we start the school year, we will begin by inviting specific students — particularly those who are high-need or in offsite educational programs — into our schools.
We continue to work closely with state agencies to develop plans for the 2020-2021 school year. As the situation evolves, it is clearer than ever that our job as educators is to be flexible; to listen; and to understand that we will need to change course. We know our parents and our students will respond accordingly to these evolving conditions, rising to any occasion as they already have.
Our District 214 leadership has thoughtfully tracked illness rates, decisions made by other school systems and the changing guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Department of Public Health and other entities, and developed a purposeful continuum of learning environments — all of them different — that will be set into action if or when it becomes possible.
For now, we know our schools will look different in the fall, with our buildings largely closed to students with the exception of those in special populations — e.g. those who are extremely high need, have significant special needs, or those in specialized programs. However, we are excited that many co-curricular activities will be able to continue meeting in person without restriction.
We also are hopeful things will change as the year progresses.
Slow and Steady Reopening
Based on guidance from state and local agencies as well as current infection rates within our District 214 communities, we plan to take a slow and steady approach to reopening our schools by inviting some individuals to participate in in-person instruction while other students participate remotely.
Friday, August 14, our Freshmen will participate in virtual orientation activities. Buildings will provide information related to how students will pick up their iPads. Monday, August 17 will serve as our official first day of school.
To ensure proper support for students who need it most, we also will be inviting specific students to join us in person, in the school buildings, for instruction beginning August 24.
Those students include our most vulnerable students — those who are homeless or part of our special needs populations or special programs. Additionally, those in our Practical Architectural and Construction and Aviation pathways will receive in-person instruction offsite.
We then will look to bring in vocational students and dual credit lab-based classes.
Other students will be instructed remotely, with our teachers livestreaming lessons from their classrooms. This will not be the e-learning that you saw in the spring. All attendance and grading policies and procedures will be in effect, and students participating in remote learning must turn on their camera and microphone to participate. They will have 1:1 iPads for learning.
We have requested that all teachers and staff work from their classrooms and offices daily. Of course, we will offer accommodations for teachers. But our goal is to create an authentic learning environment for our students, whether remote or in person. Students will continue to follow the adjusted block-schedule instruction as originally detailed, and have live, synchronous instruction and interaction for an entire class period with their teacher. Our educators are hard at work to ensure the delivery of high-quality instruction to student devices.
We also will continue to work on ensuring all students have WiFi access.
In this updated, purposeful, slow and steady model for the school year’s launch, all who enter our buildings will be required to have their temperatures checked; must wear masks; and must maintain social distance (6 feet) whenever possible.
Our first priority has been, and remains, the health and safety of our students and staff.
As we progress into the year, it is our intention to bring in small pods of students — between 10 to 15 per available space according to public health guidelines — to engage those who need reliable internet access or additional supports that can only be accommodated in person.
This will give us time to learn and adapt to changing conditions in our community.
We hope to progress to other models of learning:
Hybrid/Student Rotational Model: This approach would allow a significantly greater number of our students to attend classes in person on a rotating basis as a precursor to implementing our full Flexible Learning Plan with remote options.
Flexible Learning Plan with Open Campus: This is our previously detailed family choice plan,
which provides the greatest flexibility and capacity prior to fully reopening our schools.
Fully Reopen: This would be a full return to pre-COVID operations without restrictions.
I also wanted to highlight some of our Health and Safety efforts and initiatives:
● We have hired an experienced health professional as the new District Health Services Supervisor, ensuring coordinated and effective efforts should COVID cases arise.
● Anyone entering a District 214 building at any time must wear a face covering, even if proper social distancing (6 feet) can be maintained.
● Temperatures will be checked at designated entrances at each building.
● Anyone entering our campuses must complete a health screening.
● Hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout the buildings.
● Students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 at school will be sent to an isolation space, and a parent or guardian will be called to pick them up. Parents will be given COVID testing resources and a sheet stating they cannot return for 14 days. Teachers will be notified that the student was sent home, and the attendance office will ensure they aren’t in class.
● Nurses offices will be restaged to ensure there is room for students who need other medical assistance but are not displaying COVID symptoms, minimizing the risk of exposure.
● The buildings will be thoroughly cleaned daily.
● Water fountains will be turned off; water bottle refill stations will remain open.
I can’t overstate how grateful I am for the nearly 1,500 of parents, students, and staff who submitted questions and comments regarding the school reopening summary we provided July 16. While this outcome is not what we initially envisioned, we believe it is the best option for all.
As we began running athletic camps this summer in line with state guidelines, we experienced several instances at all six schools that required COVID-19 consultation, we had two known students who tested positive, one known coach who tested positive, 191 people quarantined at some point within the camp window and five camps that were completely canceled.
In one instance regarding an indoor camp within a field house where multiple camps were meeting within social distancing requirements, all students were required to quarantine, not just those in the student’s group, based on guidance from the Cook County Department of Public Health. After repeated conversations with Cook County, we were advised that all individuals would need to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of the fact they were maintaining social distance and not within close proximity of the athlete who was potentially ill because of the potential for increased transmission of the air circulation within the large field house. Although our building air filtration systems can provide fresh clean air as fast as every five minutes under the right external temperature conditions, we were informed that all students needed to quarantine. As we would be indoors for several hours during the day for school, one can imagine how quickly it would become necessary that we would need to shut down an entire school based on one suspected or confirmed case and the number of students and staff that could be impacted based on the movement and interactions of one student or staff member.
Additionally, the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health released updated guidance on July 24 that would prohibit the use of gymnasiums and other large spaces to no more than 50 students at a time unless fire-code approved floor-to-ceiling dividers are installed, which would limit how activities could be conducted during the day.
Many of our sender school districts already have made the decision to go fully remote to start the school year, and we know older students are often called upon to watch their younger siblings during the day. The COVID-19 positivity rate continues to climb in our region and now stands at 5 percent. We know our students and staff want to get back to what school looked like before COVID-19, and as a parent and educator, I share these feelings.
I know many of you were hoping for any updated information to come sooner. I understand those concerns, but we wanted to weigh every option and receive the most updated public health guidance before making a final decision in the best interest of our entire school community.
Thank you for your patience as we work through this together. Please send us any comments, questions or feedback via this form.
We will take it one day, one week and one month at a time. Thank you for your review and consideration.
David R. Schuler, Ph.D.
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