District 203 board authorizes superintendent to implement 'Return to Learn' plan as needed
Developing a plan for the 2020-21 academic year has been full of moving targets and ever-changing guidelines as Naperville Unit District 203 officials navigate the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, Superintendent Dan Bridges said.
Students are slated to start school Sept. 1 with an e-learning model for at least six weeks, with the goal of eventually returning to in-person instruction. But looking ahead at their phased approach to that transition, Bridges said, administrators know they have to be flexible and responsive to evolving conditions.
That's why school board members have not approved a specific plan for reopening schools. Instead, they voted 6-1 Monday to support a resolution authorizing Bridges and his team to adjust and implement the district's "Return to Learn Plan" as they see fit.
Though elected officials will continue advocating for families and providing oversight, the measure gives administrators the power to update protocols and procedures without seeking approval for every change, board President Kristin Fitzgerald said.
"This is not blind trust. This is delegation with accountability," she said. "This is us, on (the public's) behalf, requiring our superintendent to meet the needs of all the students, and to assure the ability of our staff to be able to do that with fidelity and safely ... in the midst of a pandemic or at any other time."
A majority of board members supported allowing administrators to use their discretion amid such a fluid and murky situation, especially given the state's frequently changing health and education guidelines.
Board member Paul Leong cast the lone "no" vote, saying he believes the resolution "grants too much trust to the superintendent."
The district's "Return to Learn Plan" outlines four stages of instruction that serve as a guide for the upcoming school year.
The first stage calls for fully remote learning. The second offers an enhanced e-learning opportunity that invites students into the buildings periodically for labs, special services and performance-based instruction.
Stage 3 puts students on a hybrid schedule with both virtual and in-person education, while the fourth stage would resume full in-person instruction -- but likely not until Illinois enters Phase 5 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.
Starting with an entirely remote model will offer consistency for students and teachers, Bridges said, while also allowing the district to prepare for the transition to in-person learning.
An e-learning option will be available through the third stage of the district's plan for those who choose it.
"Our priority goal will continue to be to develop and implement a plan that can be flexible and responsive to the changing conditions of the pandemic, and ultimately return to full in-person instruction," Bridges said.
"I am confident we will continue to provide the exemplary teaching, learning and social experience for all of our students that our community demands, while still providing a safe, healthy environment and transition for students and staff."