Elmhurst District 205 to start year with all-remote learning
Elmhurst Unit District 205 will begin the academic year with all-remote learning and delay plans for in-person classes until at least mid-September.
The district was one of the few area school systems still holding out for some in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
But it was struggling to launch a hybrid model with insufficient staffing. All students now will start classes virtually from home on Aug. 24.
The district tentatively has pushed back in-person learning plans until Sept. 14, but administrators caution there's no guarantee students will return to buildings next month amid ever-evolving state guidelines, worsening health data and a staffing and scheduling puzzle.
"We're not closing schools because we don't think it's safe to run school," Superintendent David Moyer said. "We're not opening on the 24th right now because we can't logistically staff it."
The teachers union has called for only-online instruction, citing lingering safety concerns, a rising number of COVID-19 infections among DuPage County children and the learning disruptions caused by positive cases in schools.
"The teachers feel that remote learning is the safest way that we can start the school year," Elmhurst Teachers' Council President Max Schoenberg said Wednesday.
At least 200 teachers have requested remote assignments based on their doctors' advice and existing health conditions, Schoenberg said. The union represents more than 700 licensed employees in the district.
"The question of staffing a building is a very challenging one because these teachers have civil rights under federal law to request accommodations like that," Schoenberg said. "They're every bit as committed to teaching as ever, but the medical exemptions are a very serious matter, and we have to respect the recommendations of their physicians."
In a written statement earlier this week, Schoenberg also said the council informed the district weeks ago that there were numerous teachers whose underlying conditions could result in requests for accommodations or leaves of absence.
"Teachers who are pregnant, or are coping with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or weakened immune systems do not lack dedication to serving Elmhurst students," Schoenberg wrote. "Their passion for teaching is every bit as strong as ever."
The district is working on recruiting substitute teachers -- already in high demand before the pandemic -- and trying to fill supervision positions, Moyer said. The district also needs certificated teachers to cover gaps in school buildings, Assistant Superintendent Luke Pavone said.
"Giving the principals a little bit more time to plan for some of these complexities will also help us be able to figure out and identify exactly what it is that we do need in order to be successful when we go to more of a full implementation," Moyer said.
During a marathon school board meeting Tuesday, several members were reluctant to alter reopening plans.
"I can see the benefits of everyone starting remote," board President Kara Caforio said. "But I have a lot of concerns if we aren't really committed to trying to find ways to get kids in buildings."
About 15% of district families had selected a digital-only option before Tuesday's meeting. About 85% of surveyed families also indicated a preference for either in-person or hybrid learning.
"I feel very passionately about the concept of choice," said board member Chris Kocinski, who opposed the all-remote start. "And choice to me means an option for both in-person and remote for our families, so they can make a choice that is best for them and their personal situations."
Schoenberg, a York High School teacher, said the district should survey families again after they experience a few weeks of remote learning.
"We're committed to working as hard as possible to make remote learning effective and engaging as long as we have to be in a remote environment," he said.
Administrators also outlined remote learning improvements in contrast to the model used when schools scrambled to shut down in the spring.
Teachers previously used Google Meet as a platform for interactive web conferencing.
"We're going to be relying heavily on Zoom from home for the students to use when they have a scheduled class time," Assistant Superintendent Scott Grens said.
Each student will receive a district-issued technology device. At the start of the school day, teachers will provide directions for class activities using a common template to help build consistency.
The district also has built upward of 20 professional learning sessions for staff.
Daily attendance will be required, and grading will return to a traditional format.