Elementary districts in Libertyville, Vernon Hills choose remote learning

Citing challenges keeping staff and students safe, elementary school districts in Libertyville and Vernon Hills have decided to start the upcoming year with remote learning for all students.

The decisions by the Hawthorn Elementary District 73 and Libertyville Elementary District 70 school boards reflected the stubborn threat of the coronavirus and likelihood that absences of students and staff would result in potentially lengthy disruptions.

Officials at both districts said they had been looking forward to welcoming students back on campus, but reversed course to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families.

Each district spent many hours planning for different options but superintendents Matt Barbini in District 70 and Peter Hannigan in District 73 reached the same conclusion in recommending remote learning for all.

The District 70 board voted 5-2 for an "e-school" option for the first trimester ending Nov. 16. The District 73 board voted 7-0 for to start with its "virtual academy" remote learning, but did not set a timetable.

"With the amount of thought and concern that went into the decision, I have every bit of faith that we'll be able to make the same difficult decisions around when and how to bring our students back and I'd much rather be doing that than deciding how quickly we have to pull them out," District 73 school board member George Fievet said.

"The constant disruptions would not be good for them (students) educationally," added board member Sonali Patil. "I know this is going to be hard and I am so sorry from all of us."

As they planned how to reopen for in-person classes, administrators in District 70 "became less and less confident" a safe environment for all involved could be provided, Barbini said in a letter to parents and teachers. Staffing an in-person option would be "problematic" given the number of employees unable to return due to preexisting medical conditions, he added.

Information from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Lake County Health Department indicated a likelihood of student and staff absences as they adhered to self-isolation or quarantine protocols, Barbini wrote.

"In the next month, we will work diligently to create a robust 'e-school' that will exceed state requirements, provide an experience for our students that closely approximates in-person learning, and which reflects the innovative spirit that District 70 has built its reputation upon," he wrote.

District 73 officials said the remote option would cause the least disruption and promised it would be different from what had to be put in place when schools were ordered closed in March.

"Our fall virtual academy will look nothing like the spring remote option did," Hannigan said. "There will be expectations and there will be accountability for the virtual option."

Hannigan said it will be a district priority to assist families with working parents and no access to child care.

Board President Robin Cleek said district residents have a hand in what happens next.

"I really, really, really hope that our community will make choices that will allow us to get back into the buildings sooner," she said. "We were looking toward the future and how do we get back to some sense of normalcy. I'm hopeful that we can really make and effort as a community to get there."

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