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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Back From Spring Break, Unit 5 And District 87 Students Prepare For Remote Learning

Staff hand out meals
District 87
District 87 and Unit 5 staff are providing grab-and-go meals for students, in addition to planning remote learning opportunities that begin Tuesday.

Unit 5 and District 87 students, parents, and teachers will shift into a new phase of remote learning this week that could be in place until the end of the school year.

Starting Tuesday until whenever they reopen, schools will do “remote learning days” as outlined late last week by the State Board of Education. The days will be counted as school days and won’t need to be made up at the end of the year. Students will be asked to do actual work, but schools have been encouraged to adopt more lenient grading practices. The focus should be on learning, not compliance.

"Yes, it's about academics. But it's also about the social-emotional welfare of our kids and our families."

“This is a process. It’s a journey for us. But no student should be punished during this timeframe,” said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel. “It’s all about continuing to connect with them. Yes, it’s about academics. But it’s also about the social-emotional welfare of our kids and our families.”

Unit 5 and District 87 were on spring break last week. Students were off again Monday for the last so-called “Act of God Day,” which also does not need to be made up later.

For Unit 5, the depth of learning moving forward will vary by grade level, Daniel said. Pre-K kids may be asked for just 30 minutes of engagement per day, with older kids asked to do more, he said.

“We don’t want to overwhelm our kids. At the same time, we want to stay connected with our kids,” said Daniel.

In District 87, the top priority is fostering relationships between teachers, students, and their families who are dealing with the same personal health concerns and social isolation as everyone else, said Superintendent Barry Reilly.

“The longer this goes, obviously we may have a greater opportunity to enhance those learning opportunities, and provide more rigorous learning opportunities, but certainly in the beginning of this, our focus is going to be on those two things: relationships and keeping the continuity of learning going,” Reilly said.

District 87 plans to use two of its five available “remote learning planning days” on Tuesday and Friday of this week, Reilly said. Staff will work but students won’t have major obligations. Unit 5 is still deciding when to use its designated planning days, Daniel said.

“Because right now, we are only out of school through April 7. I think everyone believes that will be extended. To what extent, we don’t know for sure,” Reilly said.

In Unit 5, pre-K through fifth-grade students will be using Choice Boards to review and extend their learning of standards that have already been introduced in their classrooms. Those are not reliant on internet access. Older students will get their materials online, Daniel said. Unit 5 has already distributed 300 internet access devices—called hotspots—and anticipates the need to buy more, Daniel said.

Prior to COVID-19, District 87 already provided internet access to students in need in grades 6-12, Reilly said. About 500 to 600 students use that service, he said.

For pre-K through fifth grade, there may be some families without internet access, he said. But the internet will not be an essential part of learning for those younger students during remote learning days, he said. They will be provided packets that will be sent home to families.

Unit 5 and District 87 also continue to play a critical role in feeding children in Bloomington-Normal. Unit 5 will provide grab-and-go breakfast and lunch at 32 locations starting Tuesday, including three centralized sites. District 87 also has set up grab-and-go stops across Bloomington.

“These are essential pieces to maintaining the wellness of our families and our kids,” Daniel said. “It’s a work in progress. We just ask for some patience and some grace during this time period.

Other developments announced by the State Board of Education:

  • State assessments are suspended for spring 2020, including the Constitution exam. This action officially ends assessment activity statewide for the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, Illinois Science Assessment, SAT, and Dynamic Learning Maps-Alternate Assessment for the 2019-20 school year.
  • ISBE is working with the College Board on developing options to allow current 11th grade students to take the SAT in the fall.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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