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Springfield School Board Approves Hybrid Learning Model, In-Person Learning Set To Start Next Week

Springfield School District 186 board meets by Zoom.
Springfield School District 186 board meets by Zoom.

Some Springfield public school students will return to classrooms next Tuesday. In a 4-3 vote, District 186 board members approved offering a hybrid learning model, where students attend in-person two days per week and remotely the other days. Families also have the option to remain online-only.

The vote reversed an earlier decision to delay starting in-person instruction until Sangamon County saw a lower test positivity rate and fewer new COVID cases.

Superintendent Jennifer Gill said Monday 44% of students picked the hybrid option for the spring semester. The district serves roughly 14,000 students.

School Board President Scott McFarland said District 186 is better prepared than it was in the fall, with a plan to provide rapid COVID-19 testing and more personal protective equipment for teachers and students.

“Not only do we have to factor in the safety of students, which I feel I am, we also have to factor in equity,” McFarland said. “And we have a lot of students who remote is not working for.”

Still, some teachers, parents and board members opposed the measure because it abandons a plan adopted in the fall to wait until the county meets COVID-19 metrics outlined in school reopening guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The county currently exceeds two of the metrics – a positivity rate above 5% and a weekly new case rate above 100 per 100,000 people. According to IDPH’s website, the positivity rate is 5.7% and weekly new case rate is 195 for the week of December 20.

“It’s premature to think we can start school next week,” said board member Mike Zimmers. “I think we risk credibility by establishing those numbers and then saying, meh, we’re not going to do it.”

But school officials said they’re making progress on a plan to offer rapid COVID tests to symptomatic students and teachers, and buildings are ready to meet social distancing and other public health requirements.

This post will be updated.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Mary is a reporter at NPR Illinois and graduated from the Public Affairs Reporting program atUISand received her BA in International Studies from American University. Previously Mary worked as a planning consultant and reported for the State Journal-Register where she covered city government.