It’s just less than a month before the first day of school, and DeKalb is releasing their plans to reopen amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Students returning will see a different kind of classroom from what they left in March when schools shut down.
Schools are enforcing health and safety guidelines to try and limit the spread of coronavirus. Students will be required to wear masks. Classrooms will be reoriented to account for social distancing.
DeKalb’s plan uses a hybrid in-person and online format.
Ray Lechner is one of the district’s two new interim superintendents. He, along with Griff Powell, took over in June.
“There's a direct relationship between in-person and remote,” said Lechner. “And then for the kids of the parents who choose at-home learning, it'll be a different structure, but there will be stuff. There definitely will be stuff available. It just won't look the same.”
For returning students, the plan is to split students into two groups, based on their instructional needs. And stagger schedules so students won’t come in every day of the week, only two to three days.
“And then we're going to flip the kids, A and B. So, one week you’ll be two days at school, the next week you'll be three days at school,” said Lechner.
They won’t come for a full day either, only half. Then they’ll grab a to-go, pre-packaged lunch and head home to learn remotely.
There will be an option for parents who don’t want to send their kids back in-person this fall. But Lechner said the district still doesn’t have a clear idea of what e-learning is going to look for those students.
They’re sending out parent surveys now. Lechner said they hope to have a more precise picture by the end of July of how many students will be learning solely online.
“You know, we don't want teachers to have to create two different completely simultaneous lesson plans,” said Lechner.
He’s aware that there are also teachers and staff members who are at high-risk or otherwise don’t feel comfortable returning during the pandemic.
“They can work remotely from home with kids who are required to stay home for health conditions,” he said. “So, once we get all those surveys done, we're gonna be able to align them and say, ‘Okay, we've got X number of teachers and X number of students and how can we make it work?’”
And what about the big question? What if a student attending in-person tests positive for COVID-19?
Lechner said the Illinois Department of Public Health has clear guidelines in place.
“Let's say it's a classroom, then they say, ‘Well, the whole classroom needs to be quarantined for 14 days.’ No problem, we're going to flip from blended learning to remote learning for the teacher in that class. It could be real simple,” he said.
If cases in the state skyrocket and they have to close down again, he said they are ready to switch to virtual learning.
Recently, the Illinois Federation of Teachers union released a statement advising schools to stick to virtual learning this fall.
Dan Montgomery, the president of IFT, said as of now, most schools can’t ensure the proper social distancing and safety measures needed to teach in-person.
Lechner says DeKalb hired a company to sanitize the buildings when students are learning at home. He said they’ve not had a difficult time purchasing PPE and getting masks for their schools.
As for extracurricular activities, that’s all still up in the air. The Illinois High School Association hasn’t decided on fall sports yet. But Lechner said not to hold your breath for contact sports like football.
Other activities, Lechner said, may be able to go on in different formats.
“We're asking our extracurricular teachers to see if they can develop remote options for clubs,” he said.
Lechner said, now that its reopening plan is presented, the district is going to keep soliciting feedback, as parents decide whether or not they feel okay about their kids going back to school.
Some have expressed concerns that low-income families, who may not have the flexibility to work from home, will be forced to send their kids to school even if they would rather have them learning remotely.