District 300 looking to expand in-person learning in March
With 80% of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300's staff on track to have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses by March 15, the 20,000-student district is looking to expand in-person learning in the fourth quarter.
The school board is set to vote on the recommended changes, presented by Superintendent Fred Heid last week, at its Feb. 23 meeting.
Under the proposal, the elementary schools would move to five-day-a-week in-person learning as long as class sizes can be maintained while the middle and high schools will remain hybrid but increase the number of days they're in-person.
The changes also were vetted internally, Heid told the board last week.
"We've had ongoing discussions," Heid said. "We continue to be incredibly collaborative with all of our collective bargaining units."
One of the reasons given for the proposed expansion of in-person learning is that about 80% of District 300 staff is set to be fully vaccinated from COVID-19 by March 15, Heid said. By then, 100% of staff will have been given the opportunity to get vaccinated.
"When I say 80%, those are those who have chosen to participate," Heid said. "There are some staff who are delaying participation in vaccines."
County and regional COVID-19 metrics also continue to improve, Heid said.
Although concerns exist regarding new COVID-19 variants and how they might affect the area, at this time, Heid said, metrics are continuing to see a positive trend.
"We've had the best positivity rates that we've seen in a number of months," Heid said. "We are back down to where we were at the start of (COVID-19) last school year."
District 300 falls into both McHenry and Kane counties, which are in two different health regions established by the state to coordinate its pandemic response. Both regions are currently in Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's COVID-19 Restore Illinois plan, which means the regions are under fewer restrictions than they had experienced over the winter but still include some that Heid said hinders the district's ability to bring everybody back.
One aspect limiting the full return of students at middle and high schools to in-person school is bus ridership.
The state of Illinois mandated that no more than 50 students can ride a school bus at any given time, and with 80% of students qualifying for transportation, District 300's bus fleet cannot sustain a higher volume of in-person learning at the middle and high schools than what is proposed.
Other limitations include room restrictions and schools' ability to socially distance students during food service, Heid said.
That means until the state enters Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, when the state can fully reopen, "there are additional limitations for us that basically work against us," Heid said.
If Heid's plan to expand in-person learning is approved by the board next week, elementary schools would eliminate, starting March 22, the real-time remote learning days currently in their schedules and replace it with an additional in-person instructional day.
Families can choose to keep their students in remote learning for the fourth quarter, which means they would have an additional day of remote learning once the expansion is implemented.
The changes mean students enrolled in classes with 24 or fewer students will begin attending in-person instruction five days a week. If those class sizes cannot be maintained, the rotating A/B schedule will be maintained.
With class sizes increasing, social distancing guidelines would be reduced to an average of 3 to 5 feet between people from 6 feet.
"Social distancing cannot be maintained at 6 feet and return more students," Heid said.
The schools will keep plexiglass at all elementary school desks and maintain the additional cleaning procedures, steps that "have been successful for us to date," Heid said.
Preschool classes also will move to fully in person, Heid said. Instead of a rotating schedule, all students will attend classes Monday through Friday, with class sizes, currently at 14, increasing.
"Preschool essentially will return to its normal capacity to the greatest extent possible," Heid said.
Class sizes in elementary school would also increase to 24. If the administration's plan is approved, the high school and middle school students will also move to a new A/B day rotation starting March 1, and the real-time remote schedule for Fridays will be eliminated.
As in elementary schools, class size limitations will be increased to 24.
All special education self-contained programs also will be five days a week.