Oak Grove District 68 proceeding with in-person learning
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Oak Grove Elementary District 68 in Green Oaks will be one of the few suburban school districts to welcome students in person when its school year starts Aug. 21.
The school board this week voted 7-0 to allow the option for in-person learning and cited conditions that make the single-school district able to do so safely.
Factors in the decision for the K-8 district to proceed include having enough room to allow for the recommended minimum of 6 feet of social distancing, adequate staffing and other measures.
"I think we are very blessed and fortunate that because of the size of our district and our facilities and the teachers that we're able to do this," school board member Jennifer Manski said in advance of her vote.
"This is very specific to Oak Grove."
Surveys in early and late July showed more than 70% of parents wanted their kids in the building. The second survey, sent after other districts had switched gears to offer remote-only learning, had a response rate of 96%.
"That speaks volumes," Superintendent Allison Sherman said. "We knew then it would drop our class sizes down to meet the social distancing guidelines."
Sherman said the district also has the financial resources to support the opening.
Preparations include rented tents for outdoor learning, upgraded air handling units and filters for all classrooms, masks and face shields for teachers, temperature-taking kiosks, plastic barriers for desks and office spaces, and hiring hallway monitors to ensure students don't congregate.
Principal Nick Heckel, during an update to parents on Thursday, said officials will be monitoring the same health statistics used by the state in the Restore Illinois program.
The main one will be the positivity rate. A seven-day average below 8% is needed to open. Three consecutive days averaging at or above 8% is a warning and seven consecutive days could mean closing. Quarantine disruptions and staffing availability are other gauges.
"Let me be very clear," Heckel said. "No one is saying that we will never go remote. We will just make that decision on the best data we have available to us."
School board members lauded the time and effort of administrators and the cooperation of the 90-member Oak Grove teachers union.
Union President Erin Smith said the group has a "very good" relationship with the administration and has been collaborating to meet all guidance requirements from the state, Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health.
"We are hopeful that the steps taken will provide a safe environment for the students and teachers," according to a union statement.
"However, we remain concerned that whatever measures are made, there is a real possibility that this will not be enough," the statement says.
Board member Jon Baffico said administrators, teachers and board members have put a lot of time and effort in formulating the reopening plan.
"I'm excited and hopeful for the start of school and the beginning of good things to come," he said.