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Unit 5 Shares Remote-Learning Plan Details

The United Way of McLean County hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday, Aug. 11, to address community needs during the COVID crisis. As part of it, Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle shared a remote-learning plan for fall.

Unit 5 wants students back into its buildings by mid-October. But in the meantime staff is training for a districtwide remote learning scenario that’s very different from last spring, Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle said Tuesday.

The district sent an email Tuesday to Unit 5 families directing them to its 2020-2021 remote-learning plan.

“Your child’s day is going to look very similar, as similar as it can, to in-person learning,” Weikle said, addressing community members during a United Way of McLean County virtual town hall meeting. The event was livestreamed via Zoom and Facebook.

David Taylor, CEO of United Way, asked Weikle what is most needed during this time of virtual learning that in Unit 5 will begin Aug. 24 and continue through Oct. 16.

“A safe place for the students to go if the adult or adults in their lives have to go to work during the day, yet they can’t afford a daycare program,” Weikle said, adding low-cost and no-cost child care options would be a necessity for many families. Several area nonprofits are organizing such help, but Weikle said even more will be needed.

Besides outlining details of Unit 5’s fall plan, Weikle fielded questions about how the district would ensure equitable learning and provide additional academic and nonacademic support in a remote learning environment. She also responded to questions about how teachers and staff will address the social upheaval of the summer, and address race in its curriculum and teaching methods.

Weikle said the district’s plan outlines expectations for students, as well as their parents, and what families should expect of teachers during this changed environment. 

Jade Hursey asked about how discipline and truancy would vary from in-person learning. Weikle said the district was aiming for a less punitive approach, and more of a welfare check approach, connecting with families first. Grades will be taken, and attendance is expected, she noted.

At the start of October, the district will re-evaluate the situation, and give families about two weeks to prepare for what the second quarter’s attendance will look like. If schools do reopen in October, both a hybrid (in-person and remote) and a completely online option will be offered, according to Unit 5's plan.

Unit 5 looked at several factors in making last week’s decision to switch to all-remote, she said. Topping that list was a growing number of COVID cases in the area, a national trend of large school districts opening and then quickly having to close due to positive COVID cases, and lastly a recognition that Unit 5 didn’t have staffing to adequately provide the best teaching for all students at home, and all students learning remotely.

Other plan details

In the email sent to families on Tuesday, Unit 5 said attendance will be taken each school day, beginning Aug. 24 with remote learning ending at the earliest Oct. 16. It noted assignments will be required and graded, unlike in the spring. The email emphasized all students would have Unit 5 teachers from their own schools, teaching Unit 5 curriculum.

More information about school lunches, school supplies, and student devices will be sent later this week, according to the email.

Weikle told those viewing the United Way meeting that under the district’s plan, students in grades 6-12 will follow a traditional schedule, and “attend” class each hour. Teachers will provide a mix of live teaching and recorded lessons, and be available on Zoom and Google classroom to provide additional academic support, said Weikle.

Elementary grades will have a different set-up -- a blend of live learning opportunities during the day and recorded material that families can access on their own schedules.

“We recognize a lot of those students may be in daycare during the day,” she said.

For all grade levels, guidance counselors, social workers, and other support staff will be available. In many cases, they’ll be initiating outreach, said Weikle, who encouraged Unit 5 families to visit the district website, as well as to direct questions and concerns to building principles. 

This summer, current and ongoing training will help educators learn to navigate this new environment. For example, teachers have learned how to assess a student’s reading level virtually, she said.

Aside from housing assistance, the United Way of McLean County has also focused on food access, child care and youth programming, and job loss and workforce development, Taylor said.

The agency has been hosting the Community Response to COVID town hall meetings biweekly, inviting the public to take part via Zoom and Facebook. Two weeks ago, Bloomington's District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly visited the group's meeting to discuss his district's plan for the 2020-2021 school year. However, on Aug. 6, both Unit 5 and District 87 announced their districts would shift to all-remote learning to start the school year.

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Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.