Arlington Heights District 25 superintendent defends remote learning plan
Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein defended her decision to start the school year remotely, over the objection of nearly half of parents in a survey who wanted a full return to classrooms.
While planning for at least some version of in-person learning, Bein said she had to change course when it became apparent she didn't have all the answers to employees' questions about how to conduct the school day safely in light of COVID-19.
For instance, Bein said it's still unclear how the district can support students who cannot wear face masks, while maintaining the safety of other students and staff members at the same time.
"An immediate return of all students, even in a hybrid model, is too difficult to maintain all the safety precautions we've planned for," Bein said during a school board meeting Thursday night, attended by 35 people at Ivy Hill Elementary with another 800 watching online.
"I was the first one to try to push the envelope with my planning for a full opening, using that phrase 'as much as possible,'" she added.
But Bein said she had to consider all parts of federal and state health guidance, which encourages in-person learning within safety guidelines.
An initial parent survey yielded 85% in favor of in-person learning and 15% for remote. A subsequent survey that provided a third option found 49% preferred in-person, 27% wanted a hybrid model, and 25% favored remote.
Most of the 15 people who addressed Bein and the school board favored a full return to school, saying they are comfortable sending their children back despite any health risks, while not wanting a repeat of the challenging e-learning experience sprung upon them in March.
"District 25's complete disregard for the desire of the students and the parents is appalling and insulting," parent John Hoffman said. "We got a survey and it basically got thrown in the garbage."
Bein said the surveys had weight, but she had to use all pieces of information to make a final decision.
While two statewide teachers unions said this week all schools should start with remote learning, Bein said that the Arlington Teachers' Association did not put up any roadblocks to students returning. In fact, she says, it's been just the opposite.
"I feel zero pressure from the ATA leadership in District 25," Bein said. "I do have the responsibility, however, to answer all employees' questions with full honesty and transparency, and as I find areas where I can't do that and feel good about the answer, I have the responsibility to face that the answers are not yet fully formed."
Kelly Drevline, president of the local union that represents 466 teachers, said the association has worked with administrators on a thorough plan to keep students and staff members safe. And Drevline promised remote learning would look entirely different from what students experienced in the spring.
"We do understand that this is an extremely difficult time for all of our students, families and staff, and we are all doing the very best we can," she said. "Please know our students' and staff's health and safety is our primary concern."
The district plans to begin remote learning Tuesday, Sept. 1, with all teachers working from their classrooms. But Bein suggested there could be a quick transition to a hybrid schedule, where perhaps students come to school buildings in morning and afternoon shifts, or even two days a week in person and three days remote.
Bein will set up a committee to evaluate moving from one step to the next, with the end goal to return all students to school buildings.