OAK LAWN, IL — Oak Lawn Community High School is tweaking its reopening plan for students to safely return to school in August pending the pandemic. School officials anticipate presenting a final plan to present to families and the community later this month. A full return of students this fall is not an option.
A task force of 100 people, including D229 board members, administrators, faculty, support staff, students and parents have been hard at work on the plan which is likely to include a blended instructional model, including in-class instruction and remote learning.
“We are not in a position to fully open the building to have all 1,800 students and 200 adults in school at the same time,” D229 Supt. Dr. Michael Riordan said. “There was no way to maintain the state’s social distancing expectations.”
Calling the plan a work in progress, the Dist. 229 Board of Education will get a preview during their regular board meeting on Wednesday. The board will not be taking any action.
School districts throughout the state have been tasked with choosing and implementing an instructional model that incorporates guidelines spelled out by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education. Options include a full return to in-person instruction, a blended/hybrid model of remote and in-person instruction, or 100-perecent remote learning.
“High school kids are more mobile,” Riordan said. “Kids are moving through hallways to change classes. They’re not enrolled with the same small group of students. That’s one of the biggest differences between high school and elementary school.”
The task force has created a plan where 50 percent of the student body reporting to school on an alternating schedule while the other half works remotely at home. OLCHS students are to return for the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 19. School officials have not yet determined if they’re going to bring all students back that day or set a remote date.
“We’re thinking about how to orient freshman and new students, so they have the opportunity to learn the building and resources,” Riordan said. “Returning students will be coming back to to a different school. They have to go through orientation too about safety protocols.”
“The planning and organizing that is necessary for this, it’s like changing a tire while the car is moving,” Riordan said. “The pressure we feel is trying to strike the appropriate balance with the priority of keeping everyone safe and healthy. Time is of the essence.”
Riordan said he’s been in constant contact with OLCHS’s feeder elementary school districts 122 and 123, as well as other high school districts, including Dist. 218, Dist. 230 and Dist. 231. Given differences between school districts and labor union agreements, Riordan said it was unlikely that the area schools districts return-to-school plans would be in lockstep.
No decision has been made whether football or other fall sports would proceed when school starts up on Aug. 19. Riordan said the south suburban conference would decide together. The IHSA recently released tentative football schedules for fall.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” the D229 superintendent said. “A high school is not a youth athletic league. As a public institution, we have to maintain and abide by safety guidance from IDPH, and that includes extracurricular activities. That guidance doesn’t change for student athletes when they step onto the field.”
Many school districts complained that the IHSA Return To Play plan was out of sync with state directives. On Tuesday, the IHSA issued a statement saying it would defer to the IDPH and ISBE. Guidelines previously developed by the IHSA Sports Advisory Committee have since been collaboratively amended with final approval forthcoming by the state health department. Changes include a greater emphasis on face masks worn by student athletes and eliminating scrimmages in sports that require physical contact.
IHSA teams can currently conduct limited summer contact workouts within Phase 4 Return To Play guidelines as directed by the ISBE and IDPH.
“We still believe there is a path to conducting high school athletics in the fall, like the majority of states surrounding Illinois plan to do,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said.
Families were recently surveyed about the high school’s remote learning plan that was in operation for the last three months of the recently concluded school year.
“We’re working to improve that option,” Riordan said.
Parents, students and community members can get a preview of the OLCHS’s reopening plan at the Dist. 229 board meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15. The public is welcome to attend the meeting in person at Oak Lawn Community High School, 9400 Southwest Highway. Seating capacity is limited due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. A video-conferencing link is also available to watch the meeting.
This article originally appeared on the Oak Lawn Patch