Taking an 'adaptive pause': How Naperville District 203 is responding to rising COVID-19 cases
For months, Superintendent Dan Bridges has been stressing the need for flexibility in the "Return to Learn" plan implemented by Naperville Unit District 203.
Being able to adapt on the fly was especially pertinent Monday, he said, when administrators halted the district's transition to partial in-person learning and announced a continuation of online instruction amid a rising COVID-19 case count in DuPage County.
New guidance issued by the county health department recommends area schools operate with 100% remote learning, throwing a wrench in District 203's plans to welcome back its youngest learners in phases starting this week.
Early childhood and kindergarten students were set to begin a hybrid in-person learning schedule Tuesday, with one grade level added each day until all elementary classes returned. But a recent spike in the county's weekly infection rate moved DuPage from a "moderate" to "substantial" level of community transmission, prompting the district to take an "adaptive pause" in the second stage of its "Return to Learn" plan, Bridges said.
Most students are now expected to remain in an enhanced e-learning model, tentatively until Nov. 4, while administrators monitor coronavirus conditions.
Only K-12 specialized programs will continue with in-person instruction.
The news was upsetting for many district families who have been urging school leaders to allow students to return to the classroom. Some expressed a desire for more consistency in the process, while others raised concerns over the impact of e-learning on a child's academic performance and social-emotional well-being.
"The students are the ones who are losing out here," said parent William Doyle, whose three children attend Elmwood Elementary School. "My kids were ecstatic to go back to school this week. I cannot tell you the gut punch they felt when my wife broke the news to them after dinner that they are now delayed two more weeks."
Though school board members shared in their frustrations over the abrupt announcement, board President Kristin Fitzgerald said she believes reverting to e-learning was unequivocally the right call.
"We understand this leaves very little time for parents to prepare students for this enormous change, and that this burden is even greater for working and single parents without flexibility in their schedules," she said. "We understand this requires all of us to change course literally overnight."
For now, elementary students will follow a new half-day hybrid model as planned, dividing the kids into morning and afternoon cohorts, said Chuck Freundt, assistant superintendent for elementary education.
The schedule was designed to offer in-person learning opportunities four days a week, with Mondays designated for e-learning. But now instead of going into the classroom during their assigned sessions, students will continue meeting with teachers virtually, he said.
Administrators are expected to evaluate the format and make adjustments as needed in the coming weeks, Freundt said.
Junior high and high school students moved this week into an online block schedule, in which students attend all nine periods on Mondays and half their classes each for an extended time Tuesdays through Fridays.
That format was created to ease the transition into a hybrid model -- the third stage of "Return to Learn" -- though administrators say it's also a more sustainable and realistic schedule for secondary-level students in an all-remote environment.