Partially in-person, fully online -- District 203 parents can choose
Naperville Unit District 203's roughly 16,500 students can return to in-person learning for half of regular school days on an alternating schedule or can opt for a fully online academy as the district prepares to begin a new year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
School board members on Monday heard the first version of the district's Return to Learn plan, which administrators said is designed to be open to change as COVID-19 case counts or public health guidance evolve.
The plan emphasizes goals of responding to health and safety needs, while returning students to in-person learning as much as possible -- with the academic and social/emotional conditions they need to succeed, Superintendent Dan Bridges said.
"As educators, we recognize the great need for students to get back to in-person learning," Bridges said. "When it is safe to do so, we know that in-person education is best for our students."
But the district is "starting slow," he said, with a hybrid model that will allow up to half of students at each school to learn in the building at a time while the other half learn at home through scheduled and independent online instruction.
Students will be grouped into A and B cohorts based on last name, but all students residing in the same household, regardless of last name, will be in the same cohort.
Students such as some in the early childhood program and those in specialized or multi-needs classrooms who have individual education plans will be given special consideration to receive fully in-person learning, said Christine Igoe, assistant superintendent for student services.
By starting with roughly 50% capacity at each building, Bridges said, educators can adjust to distancing requirements, face coverings, cleaning protocols and scheduling changes to allow no more than 50 people in one space at a time.
Students and staff members also must adjust to a requirement to self-certify every day before boarding a bus or entering a school building that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms and to protocols for returning to class after COVID-19 exposure or infection.
School board members asked a variety of questions about the plan, and administrators promised to keep the board and community updated as adjustments are made.
"Our plan will allow us to quickly pivot," Bridges said.
Parents and guardians must decide quickly -- by July 22 -- if they want to enroll their children in the online academy or have them attend school in the hybrid model. Those who enroll in the online academy must do so for a trimester for elementary and middle school students or a full semester for high school students.
"I appreciate that we're giving people options," school board member Kristine Gericke said. "We want to make this a little less anxious for everyone."
Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 20 -- although half of the students following the hybrid model will start with online work that day. The in-person schedule for each grade level will remain the same, and students in the online academy should expect to be available for learning during the same hours as if attending in person.
Bridges said the district plans to spend roughly $1.1 million to buy more iPads for younger students to ensure equitable access to technology. The district also anticipates increasing spending on masks to provide a supply for anyone who forgets and on instructional content to ensure the online academy meets the needs of all students who enroll.
School board President Kristin Fitzgerald thanked the community for an outpouring of comments, which were summarized in 177 pages of documents, before the board heard the Return to Learn plan.
School board members said they know families will have questions specific to their situations. Administrators directed parents with specific questions to use the "Let's Talk!" feature on the district website.