District 203 Plans to Bring Younger Students Back to In-Person Learning

In-Person Learning
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Back to In-Person Learning

At their October 5 board of education meeting, District 203 said they plan to bring early childhood and elementary school students back to some in-person learning starting October 20.

Early Childhood

Beginning with a transition schedule, early childhood students will be split into ‘group a’ and group ‘b,’ coming to school in-person on alternate days. Mondays will be eLearning days for all students.

The alternating schedule will continue through November 6. Then the district plans on bringing all students in every day instead of groups on alternate days.

“The purpose for implementing this alternating day schedule for early childhood is to ensure our three and four-year-olds have the time and support necessary  to acclimate to a school environment where social distancing, face masks, and frequent hand washing will be the norm,” said Chuck Freundt, assistant superintendent for elementary education. “Teaching these skills in a new environment takes time and the safety of our students and staff remains a top priority.”

Early childhood students have a half-day or full-day option. Full online learning remains an option for families. Students who will remain online only for both half-day and full-day may be assigned a new teacher.

Elementary Students

The transition schedule for elementary students will begin with students split in an ‘a.m.,’ or ‘p.m.’ schedule. In-person school will be half a day Tuesday through Thursday, with Mondays eLearning for all students.

All current elementary classes will remain the same. Principals from each school will assign ‘a.m.’ and ‘p.m.’ sessions. They will not be based on last names. Bussing, childcare, and strategic grouping for academic and social/emotional support are some factors principals will consider. Parents are encouraged to reach out to school principals if they feel like they need to switch sessions.

October 20 will be the first day for kindergartners to return to in-person school. Then, first grade will start October 21. Each grade level will start on a different day that week. Including in-person school, each day will also have asynchronous (individual) learning.

“Staggering those starting days by grade level was done to ensure we provide each grade level of students with the time and support necessary to acclimate to a school environment where social distancing, face masks, and frequent hand washing is now going to be the norm,” said Freundt.

Full online learning remains an option for families. They will follow the same schedule as students who attend in-person learning and will have access to the the classroom via livestream.

Junior High and High School

Junior high and high school students will continue eLearning, but will move to a block schedule starting October 19.

“Block scheduling is a learning model where students attend half their schedule everyday for an extended period of time,” said Jayne Willard, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “During the block, the majority of the learning is done in a synchronous model of instruction with some asynchronous time to allow for small group, targeted instruction, and student collaboration time.”

Each block will be 60 minutes for junior high students and 85 minutes for high school students. Mondays will follow the regular eight or nine-period schedule.

Though most students will continue learning online, beginning October 19 10% of targeted students will go back to some in-person learning, such as those who need some extra support.

“It’s not a set group of individuals. It’s more like a capacity limit that we have in terms of we make sure we follow our restrictions,” said Superintendent Dan Bridges. “Who those [students] are can change based on what the need is day to day, week to week.”

Before this stage 2 Return to Learn plan was presented, some community members shared their thoughts during public comment.

One Naperville Central senior asked the district to allow students back to in-person learning like neighboring districts and Benet Academy.

“Can there be any doubt how profoundly the high school experience has been negatively impacted by the pandemic response of this district? It doesn’t need to be this way,” said Paige Sawatzky.

A Naperville North High School teacher spoke to the board about feeling the opposite.

“It’s not about teachers feeling uncomfortable, it’s about them having to choose between the health and wellbeing of their families and earning a paycheck,” said Amy Vogelsang.

All Grade Levels

All grade levels will continue with eLearning on Mondays.

“We think it’s important to maintain this routine in place, building our students’ independence in case we need to revert back to stage 1 due to the health metrics,” said Christine Igoe, assistant superintendent for student services.

“This team and many team members not at this meeting tonight are working tirelessly to help us meet our goals,” said Superintendent Dan Bridges at the meeting. “You may disagree with our plans or think there’s a better way to do it, but I can assure you our team is pouring their heart and soul into this work.”

Because schedules are changing, if families will struggle with this they are encouraged to reach out to their school principals.

“Any transition that we make in scheduling is going to require some modifications on all of our schedules so families, we will work the best that we can to accommodate what is best [for families],” said Bridges.

Livestream Technology

For all grade levels, livestream technology will be implemented in the classroom. This way teachers are able to livestream their lessons. Students who decide to continue with eLearning only will be able to see their peers and communicate with them. Those in the classroom will also be able to speak with and see students who are learning from home.

Safety Precautions

If a student comes to school with one or more COVID-19 symptoms, they will be sent home for 10 days unless an alternate diagnosis from a physician is provided or they have a negative COVID-19 test. Also, if a parent is quarantining at home, all kids in that household will stay home until their parents’ test results come back.

If there is a positive case, those students will need to stay home for 10 days. Those exposed to someone who has COVID-19, which means they were less than six feet away for more than 15 minutes, will need to quarantine for 14 days.

Igoe said the district has several months of PPE, including hand sanitizer and masks, in stock and believe they have enough to replenish these items. However they will monitor the use of N95 and Kn95 masks which will be used by nurses caring for someone with COVID-19 symptoms and custodians who will clean areas where an infected individual may have been.

Other mitigation strategies include correct and consistent use of face masks, proper hygiene and hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and maintaining social distancing.

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.