District 21 elementary students will be able to return to schools Oct. 5
Elementary school students in Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 will be able to return for daily, in-person instruction as soon as Monday, Oct. 5, district officials announced.
Half of the district's K-5 enrollment would attend a daily two-hour, 15-minute session in the morning, while the other half would attend in the afternoon. The in-person lessons would have a special focus on math and reading instruction, while students would spend the other half of the day in remote learning at home working on science, social studies and specialty subjects.
"We strongly feel the educational benefit of having daily, in-person instruction in math and reading is vital," Superintendent Mike Connolly said during a school board meeting Thursday night, favoring that plan instead of the option to have groups of students return to school for full days, but only two days a week.
Connolly's revised return to in-person schooling plan, endorsed by a 6-1 vote of the board, does call for middle schoolers to attend two-hour, 40-minute in-person sessions twice a week.
Officials said students in grades 6-8 won't be able to attend in-person at the same time due to the complexity of the middle school schedule and availability of exploratory teaching staff.
The revised plan, with lower building occupancy limits, takes into account 6-foot social distancing requirements and a maximum of 15 students per classroom, Connolly said.
Like other Northwest suburban districts, District 21 is able to reopen its doors because of recent favorable COVID-19 health metrics in the area, Connolly said. But he cautioned an uptick in local infection numbers, an outbreak at a school, or widespread noncompliance with a required daily health certification could spur him to move the district back to full remote learning.
Parents can still decide if they want their student to remain in distance learning, or return to school as part of the hybrid plan, Connolly added.
As many parents have lobbied for a full return to school, school board members acknowledged their plan may not be a perfect fix.
"I've always looked to try to make sure that in looking for perfect, we're not going to undercut what's good and what's possible and what's pragmatic at the time," said board President Phil Pritzker. "This is the best choice I think for us as a district, for our community and for our families to make at this point."
Board Vice President Staci Allan was the lone "no" vote on the hybrid plan, favoring a gradual return to schools next semester instead.
"There is more that we don't know than we do know," she said.
Under the plan, students in prekindergarten, kindergarten and grades 1 and 6 would be the first to return the week of Oct. 5. Students in the other grades would come back the following week.