'No easy solutions': Indian Prairie District 204 unveils reopening plans
Families in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 will face two choices when student registration for the new year begins next week during the coronavirus pandemic.
The district's reopening plans call for a hybrid schedule alternating in-person instruction with virtual learning each week.
The K-12 system also will give students the option of reverting fully to remote learning through an "online academy," but students would have to commit to that model for at least a full semester because of staffing limits, educators say.
As the pandemic sparks debate about how to teach students in the fall, districts face conflicting needs, ever-shifting safety protocols and concerns of a second wave of COVID-19 infections coinciding with flu season.
"We are dealing with a complex constellation of issues as we finalize our plans," said Superintendent Adrian Talley, who took the helm of the district July 1. "There are no easy solutions."
Bringing all students back to school every day isn't feasible because of physical distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the virus and better manage contract tracing if and when a student or teacher tests positive for the virus, administrators say.
"We would need many more classrooms and many more teachers because we would have to be splitting those groups into small class size amounts," Deputy Superintendent Doug Eccarius said.
Survey results also indicate a weekly blend of in-person instruction and remote learning was the first or second preference for 75% of parents and 74% of staff who responded to a questionnaire about their comfort levels.
"We're trying to look for a plan that gets students back in school but also provides some kind of consistency for parents," Eccarius said.
With classes set to resume Aug. 20, students are expected to have an assigned schedule of two in-person instruction days and two remote instruction days each week based on their last name. Mondays will combine whole class remote learning, possible grade-level specific activities, additional support for individual students and teacher prep time.
Students with special needs could attend school four or five days a week, with the district holding individualized education plan, or IEP, meetings remotely.
All students and staff will have to wear face coverings in school or on buses unless they have medical exemptions. Anyone entering schools or buses also will have to self-report that they're symptom-free.
On average, the district can accommodate about 12 to 15 students per classroom while still providing 6 feet of distancing between each student.
If there's a positive case, the district's health services staff will work with the county health department on contact tracing to identify individuals who need to self-quarantine.
A team of district nurses has completed Johns Hopkins University certification for contact tracing, Eccarius said.
"If we don't ensure 6 feet of social distance, we have many more students who could be isolated or quarantined just because they were within 6 feet of a student who was identified with a positive case," Eccarius said. "What that would mean is we could have students who come to school, and then they have to miss school for 14 days in a row because they were isolated or quarantined."
Schools will try to limit student transitions between classes. At the elementary level, teachers could come to classrooms so students don't have to move to other building locations.
"We know that as we move to middle and high school there are more transitions that are going to occur," Eccarius said. "And we want to make sure that we can safely help students transition to those other classes."
Parents who elect to have their children learn exclusively online must register for the semester by Aug. 1.
"We've heard from many parents who are afraid to send their child back to school under any circumstances," Eccarius said.
District committees have been working on the return-to-school plans since at least April. The group includes assistant superintendents and more than 60 members of the Indian Prairie Education Association. Leaders of the teachers union, which also conducted a survey, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
District officials stress that the plans are fluid and that short-term closures remain a possibility.
District 204 serves roughly 27,400 students in Naperville, Aurora, Plainfield and Bolingbrook.