How Naperville-area schools plan to roll out expanded in-person learning
Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 have released the details of their plans to roll out in-person instruction five days a week starting next month.
State officials last week eased guidance for social distancing in schools, prompting administrators of both districts to explore bringing more students back to the classroom for extended lengths of time.
The updated capacity limits and reduced social distancing regulations from 6 to 3 feet "address the barriers that have been making in-person learning for all students difficult," District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges said during Monday's school board meeting. Various COVID-19 mitigation policies remain in effect, including a strict face-covering mandate.
At the elementary and junior high levels, District 203 students are set to move from a hybrid model to a full-day, Monday-through-Friday schedule containing all academic subjects and lunch. Art, music and physical education will be built into the elementary day, which spans from 8:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., just as exploratory classes will be part of the nine-period junior high schedule from 8 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., administrators said.
To maintain a 6-foot distance requirement while eating with their masks off, students will likely be spread out in spaces beyond the cafeteria, said Chuck Freundt, assistant superintendent for elementary education.
In the high schools, however, space constraints and a greater population of students create logistical issues for serving lunch at school, said Stephanie Posey, assistant superintendent of secondary education. Ninth- through 12th-graders are set to attend a four-period block schedule every day from 7:35 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. before being dismissed for lunch off campus, she said.
Preschool and specialized in-person learning opportunities also will be available five days a week, officials said.
The new schedules take effect April 7 -- the first day back after spring break -- for all grade levels, Bridges said. Remote learners will continue to follow the in-person schedule by tuning into their classes via livestream.
As of last week, a survey indicated about 80% of District 203 staff members are either fully or partially vaccinated, contributing to an increased level of comfort for expanding in-person learning, administrators said. The district also plans to boost its voluntary COVID-19 surveillance screening program from one to two times per week for employees and eligible students.
In District 204, most in-person learners will transition to a five-day schedule in phases, starting April 13 with elementary students, according to a letter from Superintendent Adrian Talley.
Kindergartners through fifth-graders will move from a half-day to a full-day instructional model from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said. An after-school program also is expected to be implemented for online-only students who need additional access to elementary staff members or assistance completing schoolwork, he said.
Secondary-level students are set to maintain their current daily class schedules as the number of on-campus learning days increases to five, Talley said. The expanded school week begins April 12 for high schoolers, who attend class from 7:25 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.
For middle schools, Mondays will be added to the in-person learning schedule starting May 3, with classes continuing to run from 8 a.m. to 12:59 p.m., Talley said. Students will return to campus on Mondays periodically next month for state standardized testing, he said.
Only elementary students will be served lunch at school, Talley said. Schedules for students in preschool and the STEPS program will remain unchanged.
The two Naperville-area districts are among several in the suburbs that have faced continued pressure from parents and students to offer in-person learning at pre-pandemic levels. That message rang clear during a cross-district rally over the weekend in downtown Naperville and was echoed Monday by several community members who spoke or submitted written comments to the District 203 school board.
While many were pleased with the promise of increased in-person instruction next month, some families took issue with the block scheduling and partial days offered to high schoolers. Others remained critical of the district's actions to date.
"While I hope (full-time in-person learning) happens, it does not excuse your inability to be creative and flexible up until this point," said Diane Cota, a mom of three. "It does not make up for the lost learning that has taken place while we have waited."