District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said he understands the hesitation teachers have about returning to the classroom next month in the midst of a pandemic.
“We are not going to be able to guarantee every minute of every day that kids are going to be able to socially-distance to 6 feet,” Reilly said. “It’s just not going to be feasible to do.”
In the district's reopening plan unveiled on Monday, the Bloomington school system is offering students a complete virtual option, except for pre-K children, for the 2020-21 school year.
Teachers can apply to teach remotely, but Reilly said the number of spots will depend on how many students choose virtual instruction, so not everyone who wants a remote teaching assignment will get one.
“We are a school district and our business, so to speak, is about teaching kids, and if I only have room for so many in a remote learning environment, then the other option is in person,” Reilly said.
He added the district will accommodate teachers with medical conditions, noting one teacher already has retired because of the pandemic and he said others might, too.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers has said schools are still not safe to reopen because of the risk for COVID-19 infection.
Under the district plan, in-person schooling will follow a similar daily schedule, expect at Bloomington High School. Each school day at BHS will end at 1:45 p.m. with fewer, but longer, class periods in a block schedule format to limit student and teacher movement.
“They move from one classroom to the other every 50 minutes and with a lot of kids in the hallway at the same time passing. We knew that was not the best way to be able to conduct classes in this environment,” said Reilly.
Reilly acknowledged teachers will have the additional burden of policing mask-wearing among students, but he said the focus is not on discipline but on safety. He called on parents to help set a positive role model to help limit classroom distraction.
“I don’t pretend to have the 'A' 100% answer here,” Reilly conceded. “I think this is going to be something we obviously are making a very high priority for the safety of everyone.”
The district plans to serve lunch “grab and go” style either in a classroom or other space that has fewer than 50 people present, in according with the state Phase 4 reopening guidelines.
Reilly said the district plans to hire additional custodial staff to clean and disinfect each school every night. He said the number will depend on how many classrooms will be needed based on remote learning demands.
Reilly said it’s too early to predict how many students will choose remote learning, but based on discussion with other school administrators in other districts he figures it will be around 20%.
He cautioned all these plans could change depending on how COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates trend across Illinois in the coming weeks.
“We’re not talking about it much, of course, but depending on how things progress,” he said. “The governor could scale up back to Phase 3. That looms. We still have four weeks to go before the start of the next school year. A lot can happen between now and then.”
Parents have until Aug. 4 to decide if they want the remote learning option. He said the district will soon post a sheet of frequently asked questions to better address parents and students concerns.
"It's a fluid thing," Reilly said.
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