How educators are preparing for fall if schools don't reopen

  • Nine-year-old Evelyn, left, and Charlotte Jackle, who are in Mrs. Siegwarth's third-grade dual language classroom at Otter Creek Elementary School in Elgin, take advantage of "flexible seating" during distance learning.

    Nine-year-old Evelyn, left, and Charlotte Jackle, who are in Mrs. Siegwarth's third-grade dual language classroom at Otter Creek Elementary School in Elgin, take advantage of "flexible seating" during distance learning. Courtesy of Erin Jackle

  • Sara Sadat, standing, oversees her children's e-learning at the family's Lisle home. Her children from left are, Zoya Shaik, 13, Myra Shaik, 7, and Yunus Shaik, 11. Schools across the suburbs simultaneously are planning for e-learning and school reopening in the fall.

      Sara Sadat, standing, oversees her children's e-learning at the family's Lisle home. Her children from left are, Zoya Shaik, 13, Myra Shaik, 7, and Yunus Shaik, 11. Schools across the suburbs simultaneously are planning for e-learning and school reopening in the fall. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Dana Hall of Naperville works with her 11-year-old son Keller, left, who is severely autistic and nonverbal and normally attends an out-of-district therapeutic day school. Her younger son Grady, 8, works on a e-learning assignment on the right. Suburban schools are planning for continuing e-learning in the fall.

      Dana Hall of Naperville works with her 11-year-old son Keller, left, who is severely autistic and nonverbal and normally attends an out-of-district therapeutic day school. Her younger son Grady, 8, works on a e-learning assignment on the right. Suburban schools are planning for continuing e-learning in the fall. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/28/2020 6:28 AM

Uncertain over whether students will return to classrooms this fall or continue virtual learning from home, some suburban school leaders say they are working on contingency plans for next year.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker during a weekend COVID-19 briefing said educators should plan for both when the 2020-21 school year begins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Many schools, even some with technological challenges, nimbly adapted to remote learning after Pritzker's stay-at-home order took effect on March 21.

"All our plans are being developed (and adjusted) so that we are prepared in the event distance learning is required again next year," said Tony Sanders, superintendent of Elgin Area School District U-46.

U-46 was not equipped to provide e-learning for its nearly 38,400 students when Pritzker issued the original order. The state's second-largest school district cobbled together a distance learning plan in collaboration with teachers, utilizing roughly 26,000 Chromebook devices issued to students in fifth through 12th grades and deploying 5,800 communal devices.

Sanders said the district will continue training teachers through the summer on the new learning platform software that allows remote instruction and will acquire additional technology so every student has a device in the fall.

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 spokesman Dave Beery said officials there still are working on altering previously set spring and summer plans.

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"Our immediate focus remains primarily on finalizing those changes and ensuring the best possible outcomes and experiences in a challenging situation for all of our students and families," he said.

While Naperville Unit District 203 officials say they are preparing for all eventualities, they have not outlined a plan for next school year.

"Right now, we are focusing on finishing the year strong with remote learning and what our summer learning may look like for those students interested," spokeswoman Sinikka Mondini said.

If schools do reopen in the fall, they might look very different from before, as officials consider imposing safeguards, such as requiring face masks, taking students' temperature daily before they enter school and possibly limiting attendance.

Stevenson High School District 125 officials are considering split schedules or alternating-day schedules to accommodate the 4,400 students expected to enroll this fall.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's all going to come down to the Illinois State Board of Education guidance," spokesman Jim Conrey said. "We are trying to do the best we can to map out potential scenarios that might develop in the fall. We're going to be ready for anything. We just hope the guidance can come sooner rather than later so we can do the preparation on our end."

Stevenson students are well equipped for e-learning with district-issued iPads. But the bigger challenge for it and most school districts will be securing enough face masks for all students, Conrey said.

With e-learning, educators so far have been focused on maintaining what students already know as opposed to teaching new curriculum.

It's working as well as can be expected but is no substitute for in-person instruction, said Donn Mendoza, superintendent of Round Lake Area Unit 116.

The district's nearly 7,200 students transitioned to e-learning seamlessly with sixth- through 12th-graders already issued personal devices and an additional 3,000 devices deployed for elementary students.

"If (e-learning) goes well into the fall, obviously what is normal is going to continue to shift and change and this is kind of the reality that we are in right now," Mendoza said. "Every school district is going to have to think how to improve (students). We're planning for every contingency. We need to be prepared to pivot in whatever direction we end up."

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