Dist. 70 students will be back in classrooms full time starting April 12
Kindergarten through fifth-graders in Libertyville Elementary District 70 will return to a full-day classroom schedule beginning April 12.
The same option won't immediately be available for sixth- through eighth-graders at Highland Middle School. But livestreaming will be implemented March 8 in an enhanced hybrid model with longer hours.
The actions were approved Monday as one of three options presented by Superintendent Matt Barbini.
"It's about continuous growth and improvement, and it's about continuing to seek ways to increase instructional time for all kids including our virtual kids, and including our in-person kids in an equitable way," Barbini said.
All five District 70 schools have offered some in-person learning since November. With students struggling socially and emotionally, parents have been pushing to take the next step.
"We need to take a calculated risk and we do need to open fully," Barbini said.
After Barbini told parents in January hybrid learning was likely to continue through the school year, he was directed by the school board to find ways to give students more learning time.
The resulting actions will get K-5 students in the classroom for a full day from 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Social distancing as much as possible will be practiced, but most classrooms will have students seated less than 6 feet apart, said Robin Kollman, District 70 spokesperson.
Because elementary students are in "pods" with their teacher most of the day, contact tracing and quarantines that may be required due to close contact will likely impact only a given classroom, she added.
Highland also will return to a full day, 8:50 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., with livestreaming -- also known as concurrent teaching, when a teacher simultaneously instructs students in the classroom and those learning virtually from home.
Nothing is ideal during a pandemic, but this "cool piece of technology" will be an equalizer and best path forward, Barbini said.
Because middle-schoolers aren't in pods and move around throughout the day, staying in hybrid reduces the likelihood of quarantining large groups, such as an entire grade level, Kollman said.
K-5 teachers will not be livestreaming. The district expects to add teachers, some for in-person and others to teach virtually.
District 70 officials have been getting heat from parents who want their children to return to school in person. About 80% of K-5 families and about 68% of middle school families have students attending in-person hybrid.
District officials say they know students and families are struggling and there is a strong desire to return to full-day learning for in-person and virtual learners, Kollman said.
The rollout of vaccines to teachers, a Biden administration push to reopen schools, community feedback and similar trends in other districts were other reasons this is happening, according to Kollman.
April 12 will provide enough time for teachers to get two vaccine doses, allow for staffing changes and safety measures to be addressed.
"The administrative team is saying, 'This is when we can do it and this when we can do it well,'" Barbini said.