Oak Grove, Rondout school districts prepare for in-person learning

Tents are up, social distancing measures in place and protective gear distributed as Oak Grove Elementary District 68 in Green Oaks prepares for the first day of the 2020-21 school year.

Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, about 700 students will arrive at the sprawling Oak Grove School on O'Plaine Road for the first time since March, when schools throughout the state were ordered closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're feeling confident," Superintendent Allison Sherman said. "We're feeling good."

Oak Grove and its neighbor to the south, Rondout Elementary District 72, are among the few in Lake County where students will be sitting at desks in classrooms during the school day. District 72 will begin classes Monday.

Opening day at Oak Grove comes after countless hours of preparation by teachers, administrators, staff members and others in recent months to keep pace with the latest information and changing guidelines involving safe in-person learning.

Two webinars were held for parents last week, information has been included every Monday in the electronic newsletter, and a handbook with re-entry guidance has been made available to parents.

"We feel like we can't overcommunicate," Sherman said.

Still, there is general agreement among educators that coming back to the classroom in person will involve a learning curve for everyone.

With the virus still entrenched, many school districts, even those that initially planned to offer a blend of remote and in-school learning, have opted to stay home.

The openings at Oak Grove and Rondout follow unanimous decisions by both school boards that there was enough space and resources to accommodate the recommended guidelines to keep everyone safe.

"We were able to meet all employee health accommodations," Sherman said. "That was a pivotal difference between us and some other districts."

Oak Grove has hired four teachers to reduce class sizes, according to Sherman. Students will stay in the same classroom for the entire school day, but the district, as a precaution, has hired hallway monitors to ensure social distancing.

About 70% of Oak Grove students will be in class, with the rest learning remotely. About 90% of Rondout's 144 students will answer the bell in person.

"We have a smaller student population and have enough space to meet the 6-foot social distance guidelines," said District 72 Superintendent Jenny Wojcik.

"The vast majority of parents are very excited about having their kids come back in person," she said.

Sherman said there has been pro and con comments from parents but District 68 continues to reinforce its adherence to state and federal guidelines.

"We will not compromise health and safety if any of our guidelines shift," she said.

Oak Grove Education Association President Erin Smith said members "continue to work with the administration to provide the safest return for our students and staff."

Everyone is closely watching coronavirus numbers and guidance from local and state health agencies and are ready to shift if need be.

"We don't have to close and plan for going into remote (learning). We've spent countless hours developing a plan that would transition seamlessly," Sherman said.

Opening day at Oak Grove comes after countless hours of preparation by teachers, administrators and others to keep pace with changing COVID-19 guidelines. Courtesy of Oak Grove Elementary District 68
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