District 204 exploring expanded in-person learning options
With students of all ages now attending school on a hybrid schedule, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 officials are exploring options for expanding in-person learning opportunities.
Sending kids back to the classroom four days a week, rather than two, could be a possibility for certain grade levels if the district can work through enrollment logistics and ensure social distancing measures remain in effect, Superintendent Adrian Talley told the school board Monday.
School leaders are also hoping to increase in-person learning time for students who need additional academic support and those in special education programs, he said.
Serving roughly 27,400 students in Naperville, Aurora and surrounding communities, District 204 began rolling out its hybrid plan the week of Jan. 18 after being primarily remote since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring.
Groups of students returned in phases, starting with the youngest learners, until the transition was complete last week, at which point about 11,000 kids had selected the in-person option, Talley said in a letter to families. An entirely remote schedule also is available.
Some families who initially signed up for the hybrid model are now choosing not to send their students to school, Talley said Monday, while others are currently remote and have asked to switch to in-person instruction. District officials are examining their enrollment numbers and responding to those requests.
Administrators and school board members have faced continued criticism throughout the academic year from families frustrated by the e-learning model. Several spoke during Monday's meeting, urging officials to get children back in the classroom for longer hours every day.
"We have a major educational breakdown going on," parent Brea Khalid said. "In order to maximize full potential, kids need in-person, full-time instruction. We don't need any more excuses."
Elementary principals are working to determine the feasibility of expanding in-person learning from two to four half-days a week, Talley said. That could require moving teachers around, adding an afternoon session or changing some students' schedules, depending on enrollment, classroom size and other factors, he said.
Broadening in-person learning is more complicated in the middle and high schools, where students are currently divided into two cohorts that attend school two consecutive days a week, Talley said. Mondays are designated e-learning days.
Administrators are exploring whether it's possible to combine the groups and allow all hybrid students to be in class Tuesday through Friday, without relaxing the six-foot social distancing requirement, he said. Most high school classrooms have a capacity of 12 to 14 students.
Increasing in-person learning would also affect the schedule for remote learners to ensure equity in instruction time, officials said.
Acknowledging the community division on the issue, school board members said the district has been carefully weighing the complexity of safely implementing its back-to-school plan.
"It is a risk for the entire community," board member Cathy Piehl said. "We cannot just pivot as quickly as people would like."
Administrators are expected to provide an update on the likelihood of increasing in-person learning at the next board meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 22.