District 214 to start remotely, with uncertainty over when students might return
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 students will indeed begin the school year remotely on Monday, but it's now unclear when a previously proposed gradual return to school buildings might begin, officials said Thursday.
School board members formally approved Superintendent David Schuler's remote learning plan in a 6-1 vote Thursday, the night before a scheduled virtual freshman orientation. But last week even board members begrudgingly supportive of the plan had pressed the superintendent to release a timeline that would include a possible date for the return of in-person learning. An earlier draft hybrid plan included the option of classroom instruction.
Schuler said he was preparing to provide that return date until Wednesday, when the Illinois Department of Public Health released new guidelines that he says in some cases contradicted previous guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education.
For instance, all cleaning crews and school nurses will be required to have fitted N95 masks, prompting District 214 to scramble to get its hands on that protective equipment, Schuler said.
"The challenge is not knowing what we don't know, and when that next piece of guidance is going to come out," he said.
To obtain clearer direction from local health experts, Schuler and other Northwest suburban school district superintendents plan to send a letter to the Cook County Department of Public Health about what metrics they should be following to determine when students could return to school.
Until receiving the latest state health guidelines, Schuler had planned a "slow and steady" reopening model that called for small pods of 10 to 15 students to return at a time, starting with homeless and special education students as early as Aug. 24, then those taking vocational and dual credit classes, and others who need extra support.
Now, that's all on hold.
"We're trying to be driven by numbers and public health guidance," Schuler said. "I acknowledge this is not what a lot of families want. We want to get back to our high-flex hybrid plan. It makes most sense for kids and families and it's safest for our staff. But we have to do it in accordance with the guidelines that are provided."
And, Schuler added, the school district's lawyer has advised that the district would diminish its tort immunity by going against any guidance from a state agency.
Still, school board member Todd Younger cast the lone "no" vote on the remote learning plan, echoing concerns of about half a dozen parents who spoke at the meeting.
"How can we assure parents that kids are gonna get as good of an education as they would have in an in-person environment?" Younger asked Schuler.
Schuler said teachers and staffers will work hard to make sure that happens.
"Day two will be better than day one, and day three will be better than day two," Schuler said. "I think we're ready for a robust first day, but we haven't been through the first day yet."