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D-87 Returning To Remote Learning Nov. 23 To Dec. 4

District 87 School Board President Brigette Beasley speaks with Superintendent Barry Reilly during a board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, at Bloomington High School.

District 87 will return to an all-remote schedule for the week of Thanksgiving, and the week after the holiday, the district announced during Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Besides that period of Nov. 23 to Dec. 4, a third all-remote week of Jan. 4 to 8 is planned after the winter break.  Officials also warned a local increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations, could even mean a switch to all-remote earlier than Thanksgiving week.

Superintendent Barry Reilly said small gatherings, like those students may encounter on holiday breaks, can be the type of events that cause the COVID to spread. So, that led officials to opt for building in a remote-learning period around the holidays.

"Anyone who ends up being symptomatic, or who turns out to be a positive case, that (extra remote period) just reduces the chance of having to quarantine others," he said.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board OK’d changes to BHS graduation requirements, and how grades are calculated for this school year; and it heard a district enrollment report. The meeting was in the Bloomington High School auditorium to allow for social distancing, 

For the remaining weeks before Nov. 23, students will follow their current hybrid schedule. For students following an all-remote schedule this quarter, including all 7-12 graders, they’ll continue as usual.

At this time, plans remain in place for grades 7-12 to begin a hybrid schedule Jan. 12, said Reilly. The district will be surveying those students’ parents to see whether they prefer hybrid or remote, he said.

“The challenge will be where we are at with COVID,” he said. One concern is staffing he said, noting more in-person classes, will require more substitutes. In the current all-remote environment for grades 7-12, a teacher in quarantine still could potentially teach from home. 

A detailed calendar highlighting the schedule changes will be on the District 87 website.

Reilly said staff continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and the impact it has on attendance. “We’re watching the numbers of positive cases go up, and it does concern me,” he said.

District officials keep in touch with local hospitals and the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) to help in the decision-making process. 

Reilly acknowledged fast changing metrics could mean hybrid classes switching to remote earlier than Nov. 20. But added the district will give parents as much notice as possible, if that change is required.  Meanwhile, nearby Unit 5 also is watching the local COVID uptick with concern.

Updates are regularly added to, including meal distribution, FAQs, and health/safety information.

BHS changes

The board unanimously approved loosening graduation requirements, and eliminating final exams for BHS-- for this school year only. Board members Tammy Houtzel and Kiasha Henry were absent. 

The changes means BHS seniors won't be required to meet the normal 23.5 credit hour minimum to be eligible for graduation. Instead, the class of 2021 needs as little as 16.5 hours, the state requirement, to graduate. This allows seniors, who haven’t attended school physically since March, to have flexibility in their schedules, and shouldn’t affect more than a few dozen seniors, said Assistant Superintendent Diane Wolf.

"I really think that these amended graduation requirements will help students that may have fallen behind," she said. Remote learning has been difficult for some seniors, and many already are working on the next chapter of their lives. Many have had major responsibilities at home during the pandemic, she said.

The board’s vote to change how BHS grades are calculated refers specifically to eliminating final exams. In normal times, the exams would account for 20 percent of the high school student's semester grade. 

Enrollment report

Wolf said enrollment is down this year -- from about 5,325 to 5,080 students. But, the number projected for next fall is about 5,220. The district attributes the decrease to the pandemic. Wolf said Bloomington schools saw an increase in families switching to private schools, or out-of-district homeschool options. 

Wolf also noted how the pandemic was throwing off the annual enrollment data.

A notable dip in enrollment for Sarah Raymond School of Early Childhood Education is misleading, for example. Wolfe said students enrolled there first must go through screenings that weren’t conducted by the time the district’s data was reported, she said. The dip went from 299 last year to 174 now. But,  280 students are projected to be enrolled there next fall. 

Sarah Raymond serves 3 to 5-year-old students who are at risk, or have special needs.

This year’s free and reduced lunch program numbers--down from about 53% to 42% of District 87 students--also isn’t accurate, said Wolf. That’s because the USDA removed guidelines, due to economic distress experienced by so many families during the COVID crisis. So, lots receiving free/reduced meals didn't fill out any paperwork, and haven't been counted. 

However, Wolf said district staff is reaching out to families to enroll in the federal program, expecting the percentage to be as high or higher than pre-COVID. She said tracking these numbers accurately is a priority. "Our Title 1 (funding) numbers are dependent on this two years out,” she said.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a road salt agreement with the city of Bloomington.
  • Approved several new courses for BHS, including classes in acting, business, music, and others. 

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