Barrington schools offering students choice between in-person or remote learning

Barrington Area Unit District 220 is proposing two options for how students can attend classes in the 2020-21 academic year.

Similar to other school systems, District 220 officials this week announced a plan that would feature flexibility for students and families. The district is made up of eight elementary schools, two middle schools and Barrington High School,

The plan, set to be presented to the school board at a July 14 meeting, is based on guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, district officials said.

While District 220 intends to hold in-person learning on its campuses this fall, a key component of its “Roadmap to Reopening” would allow also students to opt out and instead choose to continue remote learning, as was required during the statewide lockdown this spring.

District 220 board President Penny Kazmier said the proposal was formed after officials heard concerns from both sides.

“We have heard from parents who feel passionate about their children being able to attend school in person, but have also heard from those who have concerns and prefer their children be allowed to continue experiencing school via an e-learning model at home,” Kazmier said. “I hope by providing an option for both, parents will feel more comfortable as we move into the next school year.”

Details of the proposed reopening plan were emailed to parents this week.

“Our first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 20, and if we are still in Phase 4 here in Illinois, we will be focused on bringing all students and staff back on time. That is our intent,” Superintendent Brian Harris said. “But because we know that some students and staff and families will still have concerns and will still feel uncertainty, we want to give options to stay at home and choose remote learning.”

Any family choosing to enroll in the all distance/remote learning option would do so for the entire grading period, under the proposed plan. Families would be allowed to change to in-person learning at the end of the semester. The deadline to opt out of in-person learning is July 24.

“We need to know who is participating because we will need to assign teachers and make schedules,” Harris said. “It will be interesting with teachers. We may have a teacher do four in-person classes and one remote class, or something like that. We're not sure yet.”

Harris also is not sure how athletics would be handled for high school students who opt out of in-person learning. Typically, the IHSA and most school districts have strict guidelines on participation in athletic competitions being tied to physical presence at school.

“It will be complicated,” Harris said. “We are waiting for some guidelines from the IHSA. There could be some local latitude there to and if that's the case, we will probably look at each student on a case-by-case basis.”

Students and staff on district campuses will be required to wear face masks, but Harris said other measures that some districts are considering, such as daily temperature scans, are not feasible.

“We have a district with about 11,000 people: 9,000 kids and 2,000 staff members,” he said. “There are certain things that are just operationally not feasible. For example, about 70% of our kids ride a bus. Are we going to test them or take their temperatures before they get on the bus?

“So our approach is going to be a more passive approach. We will put it on the parents and the students and the staff to self-monitor and if you don't feel good or if you have symptoms, stay home.”

Harris said he is looking for ways for students to get occasional breaks from wearing masks, which can be cumbersome, hot and annoying.

Much of that will involve outdoor options, such as gym classes and lunchtime outside when the weather allows, Harris said.

“If you can get kids outside and social distance, they can take those masks off and I think everyone would like a break from that,” he said.

Some ideas in the plan have come from parents and students, through a survey and focus groups in recent weeks, he said.

“This situation is extremely fluid and things are changing all the time,” Harris said. “We have to be agile and we have to be ready to pivot quickly.”

•Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris. Courtesy of Peter Wynn Thompson
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