In change of plans, District 214 will begin school year remotely
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 will begin the school year with remote learning, officials announced Wednesday, marking a shift from a draft plan announced a few weeks ago that included in-person instruction.
What's changed, they say, is new guidance released late last week by Cook County health officials, other public health information, and data that shows an increase of COVID-19 cases in the state and region.
The revelations led Superintendent David Schuler to scale back his July 16 draft plan -- it gave families the option between in-person and remote classes -- and propose a "slow and steady" reopening model. Eventually, that could allow for in-person groups of as many as 15 students per class.
Schuler unveiled the latest plan during a school board meeting Wednesday morning, where a majority of board members expressed support -- although some of it was tepid, and a few on the elected panel expressed a desire for a move to in-person learning soon.
One board member, Todd Younger, called the change from the original plan a "mistake." He suggested there's plenty of data to suggest youths are just as much at risk to die in a car accident or by suicide, or get sick from other viruses and diseases.
"I'm just really afraid that we're undermining what we serve to do, and that's to educate kids and to give them a better life," Younger said.
Board President Dan Petro and Vice President Bill Dussling were among those to endorse the new plan, arguing the school district has a greater responsibility to the community at large.
"How do we contain the spread of this and still provide a quality education to our students?" Petro said. "Our students are our first concern, but not our only concern. We have to have an ability to work together not only with the District 214 community but the general population."
The board is set to take a final vote on the plan Thursday, Aug. 13 -- the night before virtual freshman orientation. The first day of classes is Monday, Aug. 17.
Schuler said the "game-changer" that prompted a shift to remote learning was a change in guidance from the Cook County Department of Public Health. Initial suggestions were that anyone who had been in contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 for 15 consecutive minutes over a two-day period would need to quarantine.
That was changed to 15 cumulative minutes, Schuler said.
"With three 5-minute passing periods each day, every student in attendance would hit that 15-minute cumulative timetable, meaning we'd basically need to shut down the school whenever a positive case would occur," he said.
This summer, the district canceled five of its 99 athletic camps after positive cases of COVID-19 were discovered and 191 people were then quarantined. That experience gave officials pause on in-person learning to start the school year, Schuler said.
What's more, he said, 2,000 incoming freshmen still have not had physical examinations required by the district to attend school.
Schuler also cited three new studies that suggest high schoolers can spread the virus at higher rates than previously believed.
By the end of this week and at the prompting of board members, district officials plan to release a timeline that would include a possible date for the return of in-person learning.
Under a preliminary schedule, the district's most vulnerable students, including the homeless and those with significant special education needs, would be first to return to school buildings as soon as Aug. 24. That would be followed the next week by vocational students and others taking lab-based dual credit classes.
After Labor Day, District 214 would start to bring back students in "pods" of 10 to 15 -- the maximum number per classroom that allows for 6-foot social distancing between desks. Among those first to be allowed in buildings would be students who need reliable internet access or additional support, Schuler said, while others might eventually be able to return to classes in person on a rotating basis.
Students would be able to come to campus at the end of each school day for certain athletics and extracurricular activities, he said.