Cary District 26 to start off school year remotely

Updated 8/5/2020 10:27 AM

Cary School District 26 will be fully remote for the first six weeks of school, a move several other area school districts also have taken in recent days.

The 2,500-student district, which begins its school year Aug. 24, will reevaluate its options after Oct. 2, Superintendent Brian Coleman said at a special board meeting Monday night.


Coleman pointed to an increase locally in both the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate, meaning the percentage of tests taken coming back positive, as among the reasons why the decision to start remotely was made.

"We continue to see the spread of the virus locally," Coleman said. "This puts students and staff, we believe, at a high risk for exposure during the in-person instruction part of the model."

The protocols the district would need to follow as it starts in-person learning would result in a significant disruption to learning and staffing levels within schools, Coleman said.

A substitute teacher shortage that predates the COVID-19 pandemic has led to additional difficulties, Coleman said.

Using parameters laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coleman said the plan District 26 initially had in place, where different groups of students would have attended in-person classes on different days of the week, would be considered "medium-risk."

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"We believe that we should phase back to the lowest risk, which is fully remote learning," Coleman said.

The district is using metrics from both the Centers for Disease Control and Illinois Department of Public Health as well as recommendations from the McHenry County Department of Health and Illinois State Board of Education, said Jennifer Thomas, the district's director of special services.

"This is really a devastating decision for all of us, and I hope people understand there's not very many times as an administrator I've been asked a question that had such an impact as the life and death of a child," Thomas said. "Really, that's what we've been tasked with. And even though this decision is devastating to me, I fully support it and understand why it's necessary."

During public comment, several parents and one student expressed concern with remote learning having a negative impact on students' social and emotional growth.

Valerie McCall, director of curriculum and instruction, said administrators listened to community members and teachers when it came to the fall's remote learning plan. This includes making sure social and emotional learning is addressed, she said.


"I think what you'll hear this evening is something that is far more improved than what we had in the spring," McCall said during the Monday board meeting.

Students will have a five-hour instructional block, which will include any kind of special services they receive. Within that five-hour time period, students will have daily interaction with their teacher on Zoom.

Something that caught the district off guard in the spring was that parents didn't know what to expect when first starting remote learning, McCall said. So now, District 26 will have a virtual orientation for parents and students to rectify this.

"In the past, this may have looked a little bit like our 'Back to School Night' or curriculum nights, 'Meet the Teacher' night," McCall said. "This will be the remote version of that."

Students in first through eighth grade will receive a district-issued iPad, McCall said. Though the administration doesn't want to have kindergartners "parked in front of an iPad all day, during their learning time," she said the district was pursuing the purchase of the technology for that age group as well.

McCall said hot spots will be made available for any family or teacher who does not have access to internet at home.

Remote learning in the fall will be more rigorous this time around, with daily contact from teachers incorporated, as well as attendance being taken and student engagement being monitored, McCall said.

"It will look as close to a regular class period as we can possibly get without having the students in the classroom face-to-face," McCall said.

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