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In Shift, B-N Public Schools To Start With Remote Learning This Fall

Public schools in Bloomington-Normal will not open for in-person instruction this fall as planned.

Both Unit 5 and District 87 told parents Thursday afternoon it was clear the challenges were mounting as other districts opened across the nation and then closed within days.

The districts pointed to rising local COVID-19 cases as one reason for the change. The number of cases has more than doubled in McLean County in the past month.

Unit 5 also cited the difficulty of maintaining social distancing and adequately staffing both online and in-person instruction. District 87 said it could not guarantee social distances of six feet would be maintained.

“I want to emphasize this decision was not made lightly and we understand that the change to our plan will place challenges on our families," said Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle.  "Organizations and social service agencies throughout our community are working on programming to provide child care to families in need.” 

Just this week parents were asked to decide between in-person or remote learning for their child. That decision deadline was Tuesday.

“Please know, the decision to go fully remote was not made lightly," said District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly. "District 87 is a tight-knit community of caring educators and families. Undoubtedly, many questions remain about this new plan. Please know we will continue to communicate with staff and families as details are finalized. Thank you for your trust, patience, and commitment."

Weikle said a detailed plan for remote learning will go to parents next week, but it will last at least until the end of the first quarter (mid-October). District 87 said the district will re-evaluate its plan in October and, if it is safe, move to a "slow re-entry and hybrid model."

“The intention is to be proactive instead of reactive. This decision allows staff and families to prepare for remote learning now, instead of hours before due to an outbreak,” said Reilly.

Added Weikle: “There is no decision that will please everyone, but in the end we believe that we must err on the side of caution and safety. We ask our community to work together to help us get our students back to in person learning. To do that we must get a handle on this virus. Please wear a mask, socially distance, and avoid large gatherings."

Unit 5 and District 87 are not the only schools in Illinois to pivot to remote-only learning to start the fall. Chicago Public Schools took the same action this week. Illinois State University announced Tuesday it would shift almost all classes online, after initially planning for more in-person instruction.

Child care crunch

Thursday's decision creates a child care crunch for working parents in Bloomington-Normal. There are around 18,000 children enrolled between the two districts.

Some options are already emerging.

The Bloomington-Normal YMCA will offer Y Academy for elementary and junior high age students, at Cedar Ridge and Northpoint elementary schools and Kingsley Junior High. Registration will open at 5 p.m. Friday, with financial assistance available.

The Y Academy's daily schedule includes built-in distance learning sessions.

“Child care and elearning assistance is essential for working parents in our community, even those working from home,” said Sarah Tunall, the YMCA's director of youth development. “We believe Y Academy meets this need in a creative way—providing a safe space for all kids for academic achievement, peer relationships and a sense of belonging.”

Meanwhile, Town of Normal Parks and Recreation staff are working with Unit 5 to offer daytime recreation programs in a fun, safe and comfortable environment, said Unit 5. The district said the education team with the Children’s Discovery Museum is also working on ideas to help provide options to supplement remote learning needs. Program details will be released in the coming days.

“Unit 5 knows there is a need for a safe environment for some students engaged in remote learning," said Weikle. "We are excited to partner with the YMCA and others to ensure that elementary and junior high students in need will have an option for supervised care and will continue to grow academically and develop social-emotionally.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal said on Facebook it too is exploring options to safely support Club families.

Both districts said food service will be available.

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WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.
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