Why Indian Prairie District 204 scrapped reopening plans
Indian Prairie Unit District 204 officials are standing by their decision to keep schools closed and start the new year online, citing numerous factors that led the Aurora and Naperville K-12 system to scrap reopening plans.
Three weeks after unveiling efforts to bring students back into classrooms, administrators reversed course after growing increasingly concerned with rising coronavirus case counts.
Nearly half the district's 27,000-plus students also signed up for an optional online academy made available to families reluctant to send their children to in-person classes, a higher-than-expected enrollment that further complicated already convoluted reopening plans.
"We found ourselves really creating two different schools at the high school level," Superintendent Adrian Talley said.
At the same time, the district was struggling to answer questions about health and safety, funding, staffing and other logistical constraints.
"How do you still teach children," Deputy Superintendent Doug Eccarius asked, "when teachers get isolated due to sickness and you don't have enough qualified substitutes?"
District officials pointed to worrisome virus numbers in their decision to focus on remote learning, the "highest level of protection" against the spread of COVID-19.
In the region including DuPage and Kane counties, the rates of positive COVID-19 tests have increased from 3.8% in mid-July to 4.7% as of the start of the month, according to the state health department. Positivity rates in the region with Will County have risen to 6.4% from 4.6% over the same period.
"These numbers and this trend in a short amount of time gave us cause to rethink our plan," Talley said.
The district polled thousands of parents about reopening plans, with 24% of surveyed families expressing interest in remote learning from home. But by the end of last week, more than 45% of students wanted to enroll in the online academy.
"It was not possible for us to create both an in-person high school and an online high school having the same academic options for our students," Talley said. "Though we were offering 65 classes in our online academy, more than some of the other districts, it was not enough to provide the rigor our students need and deserve."
Normally, the district's high schools offer more than 200 courses.
"We heard very quickly and loudly from our families choosing the online academy that we did not have enough course offerings," Eccarius said. "We explored other opportunities. They came with a cost."
As the district shifts to distance learning, the Parent Diversity Advisory Council in District 204 reiterated concerns about working families accessing child-care for their young children while schools stay closed.
"We hear from parents of special needs children who face enormous pressures in trying to balance the learning and care needs for their kids," said Karen Zatz, a council leader. "When school is the place where you receive occupational, physical and speech therapy as well as specialized educational resources, it is very hard to imagine how remote learning will duplicate the typical services provided in our district."
The district's revised plans now call for a remote start to school on Sept. 3.
Online classes will look different from the model used in the spring when schools quickly shut down and a student's final grade could not be lower than it was on the last day of in-person learning. At that time, only students in second through 12th grades could access devices.
"We know for parents, it was inconsistent," Eccarius said.
Students and parents will now submit attendance daily. All students will have devices. And the district will provide a daily average of at least 2.5 hours of live instruction in accordance with state recommendations.
With that so-called synchronous approach, teachers and students are online at the same time in small or large group settings.
Eccarius said the district is working with community groups to provide options for families who need child supervision during working hours.
At the next school board meeting on Aug. 10, officials expect to have more specifics about those resources, as well as updates on schedules for grade levels, device and material pickup plans and food services.