Some parents voiced concerns Wednesday night to the District 87 school board over plans to allow in-school, hybrid learning this fall for younger students, but not the district's teens.
Superintendent Barry Reilly updated the board about the plans announced earlier in the day, in which students in grades 7 through 12 will stay remote at least until January. Families have the option to send younger students back for hybrid learning, some as early as Oct. 26.
Reilly told the board bringing students back to Bloomington Junior High and Bloomington High schools now would disrupt the class schedules of the semester system.
The hybrid format starting this month for younger groups is in-school two days per week, two days of asynchronous online learning, and one day of teacher-led online instruction.
Reilly explained reasoning for the plans to the board. Elsewhere, the hybrid model has been effective in containing the spread of the coronavirus, because no more than half of the students are in school on a given day, he said. Stringent cleaning of buildings will be completed daily, he added.
Other Illinois school districts have returned to in-person learning, without problems, he said. “We find transmissions are just not happening in schools” when masks and social distancing is enforced, Reilly said.
The board's in-person board meeting was in BHS' auditorium to allow for a social-distanced space for a potential crowd. But it proved larger than needed. Only about a dozen people attended. Everyone, including board members, wore masks.
Reilly said about 30% of students in pre-K through grade 2 opted to finish fall classes with all-virtual instruction. Those that chose hybrid will begin Oct. 26. Grades 3 through 6 can begin in-person classes Nov. 9, with family decisions required by Thursday.
About half of the district’s 107 students enrolled in special education classes already have returned to in-person learning, Reilly told the board.
Treasure Davis is mother to three District 87 students. Her high school freshman and seventh grader have a routine in place, so waiting until semester break makes sense. She also thinks with COVID-19 cases on the rise again, and the flu season around the corner, a return to in-school learning could prove chaotic, with possible closures.
But she’s frustrated about the opening of grade schools for hybrid for those same reasons, saying the district is rushing with young vulnerable kids, and with less than two months until winter break.
“Personally, I think schools should be shut down until we get a viable vaccine,” she said.
“Remote is OK,” she said. It might not be the best educational choice, but it's the safest during a pandemic. “Our children are not tally marks on a yes-or-no survey,” she said. “Not one child has to die.”
She sees the hybrid switch mid-fall as a disruption to not only teens, but younger students as well. It’s uprooting kids from their classroom communities, and destroying teacher-student bonding, as they get shuffled around, she said.
Davis also told the board communication to parents is lacking this fall, saying District 87 officials gave families very little time to decide whether to move to hybrid, less than a week for sixth graders, she said.
Parent Mandy Hawker, a mother of five, including four in District 87 schools, also said she doesn’t think the hybrid format the district has in mind is a smart choice for grade schoolers. With two days of no-teacher instruction each week, they’ll be on their own, she said. “Are the kids going to be behind?” she asked.
Hawker, too, criticized what she claimed was a lack of communication.
“We don’t know anything because nothing was relayed to us,” she said, of details on the mixed formats, and then parents are told they can’t change their decisions, once made. “To me, it seems to be a whole hot mess,” she said.
Hawker lamented not being informed directly about the new plan: “How dare the parents not be informed before our kids, before the press,” she chided.
While Hawker and Davis voiced their concerns about changes happening mid-semester to younger students--whether they choose hybrid or all-remote-- another mother took time to praise the district.
Erica Hartman, the mother of a sixth grader, thanked District 87 leaders for choosing to allow that grade to return to BJHS for hybrid learning in November.
She said students like her son have felt demoralized and alienated away from the social fabric of in-person learning, so she is eager for him to return. Normally successful in his academic life, the remote learning environment is not engaging for him, she said.
“It’s been really hard to watch him after he looks at blank screen after blank screen,” she said.
Hartman said the return to some school days also will help her family’s finances. “I’ve been out of work for three months. These kinds of decisions are hard for people like me who can’t work from home,” she said.
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