Fox River Grove District 3 adjusts back-to-school plans, prepares for remote learning
Fox River Grove School District 3 will begin the school year with remote learning through at least Sept. 30, district officials said during a special school board meeting held Monday via Zoom.
The 400-student elementary district had approved a blended learning plan with a remote option for families on July 20, but with COVID-19 cases in McHenry County and surrounding counties continuing to increase, decided to change its back-to-school plan to fully remote. The district will reassess its approach Sept. 21 to see if in-person instruction can resume for the remainder of the trimester.
A recent countywide conference call with McHenry County Health Department officials indicated that current conditions would have made the previous hybrid model ineffective, District 3 Superintendent Tim Mahaffy said during Monday's meeting.
"A question was asked and it was stated, while they understand that all students will have masks on while they're riding a bus, they also understand that students may not be a full six feet apart while social distancing," Mahaffy said. "And if any child tests positive with COVID-19, the entire bus will need to be quarantined for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they were (within) six feet of each other."
McHenry County and many of its neighbors are currently in the warning level for cases per 100,000 people, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health's county level COVID-19 risk metrics. McHenry has 75 cases per 100,000 people while Winnebago has 61, Kane 66, Cook 70, DuPage 73, DeKalb 77, Boone 88 and Lake 90.
District 3 board President Kristine Hester also pointed to ZIP-code specific data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which has shown recent positivity rates in the area approaching 8%, a threshold used by the state for considering whether economic reopening plans need to be rolled back.
"We can see that the metrics are moving in the opposite direction of what we'd like to see when gathering groups of people again," Hester said.
New information about the spread of the virus, especially among children and between children and adults, has also raised concerns, Mahaffy said. He cited the story of a Georgia sleepaway camp outbreak where at least 260 of 597 campers got infected.
"If you recall, early on, it seemed like a senior citizen illness," Mahaffy said in the meeting. "We believed students and children were spared, but that's no longer the case based upon the data."
District 3 will provide students with both synchronous and asynchronous learning, meaning students will sometimes receive real-time education from teachers and sometimes be tasked with learning at their own pace, Mahaffy said. The first day of remote learning for students is Aug. 27.
Unlike the spring semester, students will be provided with a consistent schedule and attendance will be required on a daily basis. Students will be graded and assessments will be regularly scheduled, with a focus on "high expectations for staff and students," according to the plan.
When in-person learning was disrupted by COVID-19 in the spring, the Illinois State Board of Education prohibited e-learning assignments from negatively impacting a student's academic standing during the suspension of in-person instruction.
"I appreciate the sentiment behind what they were getting, but I think that lack of accountability led to what a lot of people experienced as kind of a hot mess," Hester said. "We just couldn't hold kids accountable the way that we're used to doing in education."
"Honestly for our teachers, that was a struggle," Mahaffy said. "They wanted to grade and they wanted to continue to assess. To be told they couldn't give that very standard feedback, it was very hard for them to do."
Staff and families will be provided with remote learning guides with more information as the school year approaches, Mahaffy said. Students and families should expect at least 2½ hours of live instruction each day, and the district will work individually with parents of special education to ensure their Individualized Education Program, or IEP, requirements are met.
"The (administration's) focus is to get it structured so it looks and feels like a student schedule on a daily basis," Mahaffy said. "So the parents know, and students for that matter, I'm going to have math at this time, I'm going to have ELA at this time, here's my team for PE, here's my time to contact my teacher. ... 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., they know what they should be doing."
Mahaffy said he expects teachers to be prepared when full remote learning starts.
"I haven't had anyone inform me that they're not going to be ready," Mahaffy said.