District 203 outlines slow return to in-person learning, with social support for students
Naperville Unit District 203 plans to start with eLearning in a much more robust and rigorous way than was possible in the spring -- for the first six weeks of the new school year, and possibly more.
But Superintendent Dan Bridges said the district is doing so in order to best facilitate social and emotional success for students and to plan and prepare for a return to in-classroom learning as soon as safe and possible.
"The plan we present this evening is staged to adapt to safety and health needs and focus on returning all students to in-person instruction," Bridges said during a school board meeting on Monday night.
The district outlined four stages of learning that will serve as the guide as students begin the new academic year Sept. 1.
The first stage is fully online called eLearning; the second is enhanced eLearning with students invited into buildings periodically for labs, special services and performance-based instruction; the third stage is a hybrid with eLearning and in-person instruction; and the fourth stage -- which Bridges said likely will not be possible until Illinois enters Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, with a COVID-19 vaccine, effective treatment or an end to transmission -- is a return to full in-person education.
School board members asked dozens of questions during a livestreamed meeting as they reviewed the updated Return to Learn Plan. They asked about child care, college and career preparation, meeting the needs of students with individual education plans and how the district will decide when to move between the proposed stages of learning scenarios.
School board members also approved an updated school calendar that calls for a tentative end to the school year on June 10, 2021, with the first semester ending after winter break on Jan. 21.
During the year, the administration intends -- in a plan that leaders emphasized is fluid and open to change -- to evaluate every six weeks whether it is possible to move into each less restrictive stage. Administrators plan to evaluate state data and public health requirements, among other factors such as personal protective equipment availability, staffing to cover absences, student social/emotional readiness, staff preparation and facility considerations before switching stages.
During the eLearning stage proposed for the beginning of the year, students at all levels will be expected to log into online learning experiences -- some live and some independent -- during the same times they normally would be in school. There will be at least 2½ hours each day of live, or synchronous, learning, and at least five hours each day of total online learning time.
Christine Igoe, assistant superintendent for student services, said during a time of intense uncertainty, the district wanted to provide stability. This will help students form relationships with their peers and teachers and establish routines that give structure to their day.
"We wanted to provide a plan that could be implemented on the first day of school, regardless of circumstances," Igoe said.
School board member Donna Wandke likened the slow return to in-person instruction to wading into a zero-depth pool instead of diving into the deep end.
The plan represents a change from what the district announced July 13, which included a hybrid in-person and eLearning model as well as an online academy for students whose families did not want them to attend in-person.
"This decision was not what any of us had hoped for and we will continue to move forward in providing the best possible education support for our students under these new circumstances," Bridges said.
Administrators announced the changes after hearing comments and complaints from parents on all ends of the spectrum, between those who want their students to attend in-person classes five days a week without masks and those who want online instruction only.
School board President Kristin Fitzgerald said the plan aims for a consistent new school year that provides students with the best services academically and socially and represents everyone's best educational work during a pandemic.
"Not everything went perfectly," Fitzgerald said, referencing concerns about the initial plan. "And as we heard concerns from community members, they were able to be addressed."