DuPage-area districts announce plans for in-person learning 5 days a week
A growing number of DuPage County school districts are developing plans to offer in-person learning five days a week after state officials eased restrictions for social distancing in schools.
Superintendents from Naperville Unit District 203, Indian Prairie District 204 and Glenbard Township High School District 87 are among those who notified families of their intent to bring students back to school for greater amounts of time next month after spring break. A remote learning option will remain available for all students.
Their announcements come on the heels of updated guidance released Tuesday by the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health, including reducing social distancing regulations from 6 to 3 feet, to encourage a return to classrooms as soon as possible. Various COVID-19 mitigation policies remain in effect, including a strict face-covering mandate.
"We are pleased to see that many strategies align with our plans to increase the time our students attend school in-person for the remainder of the year," District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges said in a video to families.
Starting April 7, elementary and junior high students are expected to return to a typical full-day schedule Monday through Friday, he said. Preschool also will be held five days per week on an AM/PM schedule.
Space remains an issue in the high schools, "where our increased population of students creates a barrier to maintaining the required 6 feet of social distancing when eating," Bridges said. Ninth- through 12th-graders are expected to attend a four-period block schedule from 7:35 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with no lunch, he said. Grab-and-go options will still be available.
The district hopes to return to a full eight-period schedule by the fall, he said. Administrators are expected to provide additional details about its Return to Learn plan at Monday's school board meeting.
In District 87, schools are slated to return to pre-pandemic levels of in-person instruction for eight periods every day beginning April 5, Superintendent David Larson said in a message to the community. Student cohorts used for the hybrid schedule will be combined, lunch will be served, buses will run their usual routes, and classroom layouts will be adjusted to reflect new capacity guidelines, he said.
"Our teachers are proud to work in a district that follows the science and prioritizes the safety of its students, staff and community while providing a high-quality education," Glenbard Education Association President Kevin Sutton said in a written statement. "We are excited to move closer to something resembling normal."
While District 204 already has been phasing in expanded in-person learning opportunities this month, the updated state guidance allows schools to take the plan a step further, according to a letter from Superintendent Adrian Talley.
Remote elementary students who were on the waitlist for in-person instruction, for example, will now be allowed to return to the classroom with their peers four days a week. As middle and high schools transition to four days a week of in-person learning, he said, "only a limited number of alternative learning spaces will be used," meaning more students will be allowed to stay in their classrooms.
Indian Prairie officials are aiming to bring students at all grade levels back to school five days a week after spring break, he said, though he did not disclose whether the schedule would include half or full days. Additional details will be presented March 22.
While "any movement is good movement," parents aren't celebrating until they know the extent of the administration's plan, said Lori Skurka, a mom of three District 204 students.
Many suburban districts have faced continued criticism from community members pushing for full-time in-person instruction. That message remains the theme of a rally scheduled for Sunday in downtown Naperville.
Families from about nine area districts, including Districts 203 and 204, are expected to participate in the event, which aims to keep the pressure on school leaders and send a message that the decisions made this year "can't happen again," said Skurka, an organizer.
The rally kicks off at 11 a.m. with a walk from Webster Avenue and Douglas Street to the Free Speech Pavilion along the Naperville Riverwalk.