PLAINFIELD, IL — The Plainfield School District will start the 2020-2021 school year with remote learning on Aug. 31, with the possibility of returning to in-person learning during the second quarter of the fall if COVID-19 conditions allow.
The Board of Education voted 4-2 in approval of a slightly-amended version of the administration’s Return ’20 reopening plan during the Monday meeting.
The approval comes a week after the original version failed by a 3-3 vote. Board member Robert Smith, Board President Kevin Kirberg, Vice President Rod Westfall and member Heather Drake supported the amended plan. Board Secretary David Koch and member Dr. Michael Robey voted against it.
The amendment responds to more than 2,300 comments from thousands of parents, staff, students, staff, administrators, and board members received since July 15, when the board received the original proposal at a special Committee of the Whole meeting.
District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell stressed that both versions of the reopening plan prioritize the safety and well-being of District 202 students, families, and staff.
“We know some of our neighboring districts are choosing to start the year with in-person learning,” he said. “We sincerely hope no one anywhere gets sick or worse, but we must be concerned first and foremost about our own students, staff and families.”
Abrell also reiterated that District 202 administration and teachers have worked very hard to improve its remote learning capabilities and resources after the system did not work as well in spring.
“We have invested a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to improve our remote learning system both for now and for later when we have bad weather,” he said.
On Thursday, about 200 teachers from schools across the district had participated in a demonstration against returning to classrooms this fall amid the pandemic.
The Association of Plainfield Teachers President Dawn Bullock told Patch that even though she agrees students belong in classrooms, she is not sure parents understand “how different the classroom will be when students go back.”
“We know so much about this virus and yet so little. In about four months, we went from kids can’t get the virus, to 10-year-olds and older can get the virus. We don’t know the long term risks of COVID-19 either,” she said. “I get that we all crave normalcy, I do too, but I crave life more.”
Bullock agrees that “this is annoying and inconvenient, but everyday I wake up healthy and safe.”
“Yes, we all want choices, but sometimes there are no good choices, and we have to sacrifice immediate gratification for long-term health and happiness,” she said. “Online learning is learning. Students will learn, and they will thrive with support from parents, teachers and their friends.”
After the board’s decision Monday night, Bullock said in a statement that the district “decided to do what’s best for the health and safety of our students and our staff.”
“No one wants to get back to in-person learning more than our educators, but right now we have to do what’s safest for our students, our staff and our community,” the statement said. “For the past several months, our members have been working to put together a comprehensive remote learning plan that encompasses all grade levels and subject matters, and we believe this is truly the right step for our students.”
The amended Return ’20 Plan includes several important changes to the original proposal.
Remote learning will start Aug. 31 rather than Aug. 24, to allow more time to:
Buy protective personal equipment and safety-related custodial supplies for when in-person instruction resumes
Polish the remote learning plan and train paraprofessionals who may help deliver remote learning.
Deliver laptops between Aug. 17-26 to all 6th-12th graders. District administration is still exploring the possibility of giving laptops to 4th and 5th graders.
Among their other responsibilities, teachers are expected to:
Respond to parent or student emails during regular business hours within 24 hours of receipt
Host at least one live Google Hangout meet or Zoom meeting each day during school hours, rather than at least one per week.
Work will continue to plan to bring students back for in-person education as soon as it is safe to do so. To that end:
District and school administration will work with teams, teachers to develop transition activities for certain grade levels of specific student populations to the extend conditions allow.
Administration will review COVID-19 conditions and metrics, and neighboring districts’ success with in-person learning in the first four to six weeks of school, rather than the first six weeks, with the goal of returning to school in person for the second quarter if practical. The second quarter starts Oct. 19.
Administration will give priority consideration to having the most at-risk students return to in-person education first.
Abrell said he fully intends for students to return to in-person learning as soon as possible, depending on the status of the pandemic. Remote learning would continue if the pandemic conditions do not improve.
When in-person learning resumes, instruction will be held on either a partial/modified or hybrid schedule depending on circumstances, to limit numbers of students in buildings. Options include A/B schedules and/or blended remote and in-person learning.
Parents will be able to choose whether to send students back to school if in-person learning resumes after the first nine weeks of school. In any case, in-person instruction will require robust safety protocols and guidelines, including students and staff wearing masks indoors at all times per current state guidance.
Finally, if conditions significantly improve, students can return to in-person learning in larger, more “normal” numbers, Abrell said.
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This article originally appeared on the Plainfield Patch