Aurora mayor, school leaders discuss status of education during COVID19 crisis

Updated 4/16/2020 9:50 AM
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that East Aurora District 131 plans to have its new iPads in students' hands by April 24, for use this school year. And it is District 131 that has a committee, including parents and students, discussing end-of-year events; West Aurora District 129 is consulting parents and students online.

When East Aurora District 131 officials learned March 10 that the state likely would close schools the next week, they knew their elementary students were not equipped with computer devices to take home for remote e-learning.

So staff members made thousands of packets of paper lessons, Superintendent Jennifer Norrell told Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin during a public online chat Wednesday with area school leaders.


"In hindsight, I have no idea how they pulled it off," Norrell said.

The crisis accelerated the district's plan to get devices in the hands of all elementary students, she said, and the school board pushed up a planned $2.2 million purchase of 6,000 iPads, to be used by kindergartners through fifth-graders. They are expected to arrive Friday. The district aims to have them in students' hands by April 24.

Norrell, West Aurora District 129 Superintendent Jeff Craig and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 Superintendent Karen Sullivan participated in the discussion along with Superintendent Colleen House of Aurora Christian Schools and Illinois Math and Science Academy President Jose Torres.

They discussed remote learning, online learning, meals for students and more.

A recording of the discussion is available on the city's Facebook page.

Craig said his district likely will postpone its graduation ceremony until July and is asking residents and students for their opinions about what to do about customary end-of-year events. District 131 has formed a committee, including residents and students, to discuss those matters.

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Torres said IMSA students have been challenged by food insecurity and inadequate internet access. The school has 650 residential students now studying from their homes in 62 counties.

IMSA has urged its low- income students to obtain school meals from their home districts and is issuing prorated refunds of two months' worth of student fees. He said some families have donated that money to an assistance fund the school created.

House said several students went home to China and are not allowed on the Google platform the school uses for some of its teaching. So teachers have sent lessons by email.

Sullivan said the number of students taking free lunches increased by a few thousand each week of the closure. As of Wednesday, District 204 has dispensed about 32,000 meals, she said.

West Aurora has delivered 50,000 breakfasts and lunches, and East Aurora 80,000, their superintendents said. All three districts said they are not requiring students to show proof that they are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals.

The mayor plans to host a discussion at 11 a.m. today with U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood and Bill Foster.

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