Barrington District 220 sets return to hybrid learning for Jan. 19

  • Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris, second row from top, first from left, presented a plan for a return to hybrid learning Jan. 19 during the school board meeting held via Zoom on Tuesday night.

    Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Brian Harris, second row from top, first from left, presented a plan for a return to hybrid learning Jan. 19 during the school board meeting held via Zoom on Tuesday night. Courtesy of Barrington Area Unit District 220

 
 
Updated 12/16/2020 4:25 PM

Barrington Area Unit District 220 has a plan for a return to hybrid learning Jan. 19, citing revised guidance from the Lake County Health Department and the anticipation that the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for educators sometime next month.

The Jan. 19 date accounts for keeping schools closed for a period after winter break, as advised by the health department due to expected travel and gatherings, Superintendent Brian Harris told the school board Tuesday night.

 

The health department says its data shows that consistently wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and contact tracing are effective at stopping the spread of the disease, Harris said. As long as those measures are in place, students can return to school, even if metrics like weekly case counts and positivity rate still show significant community spread, he said.

"The key to returning is to be able to successfully implement all mitigation, including social distancing," Harris said. "If we see a change in that at the secondary level, we will have to come back and maybe make modifications."

Harris also pointed out that small groups of students with specific needs have been going to school all along.

Phase 1 of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan consists of three tiers of distribution: the first for health care personnel and residents on long-term care facilities, the second possibly for "essential front-line workers," and the third possibly for adults with high-risk medical conditions and those over 65.

Harris said educators would be part of the "essential front-line workers" category, and it's anticipated that vaccines for them will be available sometime in January. "We do believe it will be rather quickly in relation to the general public," he said.

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District staff members won't be required by the district to get the vaccine, but it's "highly recommended" they do, Harris said. Those who choose not to get the vaccine still will be asked to come back to work, he said.

Families will have a choice between sending students back to school in January for hybrid learning -- a mix of in-person and remote learning -- or keeping students learning remotely.

Hybrid learning will cost an additional $2.6 million, officials said. That includes mostly transportation costs -- elementary school students will go to school in two groups, one in the morning and one in the afternoon -- as well as additional staff members so most teachers won't have to teach students in the classroom and via Zoom at the same time, Harris said.

The district started in-person classes Oct. 19 with a hybrid model but returned to remote learning shortly after, following guidance from the Lake County Health Department regarding an increase in COVID-19 cases. The board has received complaints from frustrated parents who say remote learning is detrimental to their children's education and emotional well-being.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

An online petition asking for Harris' firing and/or resignation has garnered more than 1,700 signatures, including from outside the district. Harris, who is retiring in June, didn't return a request for comment regarding the petition.

"The board has received and read the petition," board President Penny Kazmier said Wednesday. "I understand that these COVID times have been very difficult on everyone, but Dr. Harris continues to have the support of the board of education."

The board spent five evenings in the last two weeks meeting with superintendent candidates and feels "really good" about the interviews, Kazmier said. The new superintendent is expected to be named in early 2021.

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