How should online-only learning look for District 304? Board members weigh in

  • For Geneva Unit District 304 students, an online-only learning option for the fall semester would offer a parallel but entirely separate track from a hybrid model that blends in-person and off-site instruction, administrators said.

    For Geneva Unit District 304 students, an online-only learning option for the fall semester would offer a parallel but entirely separate track from a hybrid model that blends in-person and off-site instruction, administrators said. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/24/2020 6:36 AM

For Geneva Unit District 304 students, an online-only learning option for the fall semester would offer a parallel but entirely separate track from a hybrid model that blends in-person and off-site instruction, administrators said.

The fully remote format is designed for families with health concerns or those who have significant reservations about sending their children back to school. But there are some limitations, including fewer class offerings and less flexibility to return to an in-person setting, said Andy Barrett, assistant superintendent for learning and teaching.

 

"What we really have is a capacity issue," he said. "We can't replicate our entire rich curriculum in this virtual world while we're still doing the full in-person and A/B hybrid schedule."

Presented with an overview of the "Back Together 304" plan Monday, the school board supported allowing families to decide which instructional model is best for their kids when classes resume next month.

With a hybrid format, up to half the students at all grade levels will attend school in person at a time, while the other half will be completing assignments and participating in independent learning experiences off campus, according to the plan.

The online-only option, which requires a commitment through December, incorporates synchronous lessons and daily assignments into a structured schedule centered around core subjects, officials said. Students will be placed into districtwide virtual sections taught by educators dedicated to remote learning.

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Board President Taylor Egan said she believes the plan best represents the needs of students and teachers, as reflected in conversations with Geneva Education Association President Kevin Gannon.

"I think that speaks to our district's goal of making sure that our staff is safe, that our students are safe and that the educational integrity that we have delivered in the past is maintained," she said.

However, board member Leslie Juby said the lack of electives and other restrictions of the online-only plan are unfair for students who have no choice but to stay home.

"To me, that is not equity and that is not what this district is about," she said. "I can't back that for our students."

Egan echoed Juby's concerns, saying the district prides itself on offering equal opportunities to all students. Though not every course may be adaptable to an online format, she said, "I would like to narrow that gap a little bit and find creative ways to do that."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The back-to-school plan has some wiggle room for administrators to explore expanding the online curriculum, Barrett said, though doing so may lead to increased staffing levels or other costs.

"This is an area that honestly all of us struggled with," said Shonette Sims, director of learning and teaching. "How do we create this in a way that's meaningful and quite frankly doesn't appear punitive?"

Offering live-streaming of in-person classes, as suggested by some members, would require the installation of expensive and robust infrastructure, Barrett added, which is not a realistic option for what is likely a temporary situation.

Extracurricular activities and athletics will be offered to all students regardless of the instructional format they choose, officials said.

Families are expected to receive information this week about how to select a plan for the fall semester.

Administrators stressed that the district is prepared to implement other scenarios, including a districtwide remote option, should the COVID-19 crisis evolve and state regulations change.

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