The Illinois State School Superintendent office is telling school districts to prepare for digital learning days if the coronavirus prompts extended school closings.
“It is imperative districts begin working on emergency plans immediately, including research-based e-learning plans,” stated an email sent to school districts and Regional Offices of Education. “Beyond e-learning days, if schools need to be closed for an extended period of time, districts should take affirmative steps to work with their staff and communities to ensure continuity of education.”
District 87 in Bloomington started e-learning days for snow days last school year, but Superintendent Barry Reilly said the district and its teachers would need to develop long-term lesson plans.
“It is not something we have prepared to do for a long, extended period of time, that’s really not what we have planned for when it comes to e-learning days,” Reilly said.
Reilly added e-learning for an extended period of time poses additional challenges for elementary students because it's less web-based and requires the help of a parent or supervisor.
Olympia superintendent Andrew Wise said e-learning has worked well in the Stanford-based district, except for the 10% of students who lack reliable internet at home.
“The one challenge was have in terms of our e-learning is for our rural students who don’t have internet connectivity,” Wise said.
He added the schools have hot spot cards students can check out to gain wi-fi access at home, but he's not sure the district would have enough for everyone who might need one.
He said all of the district’s buses are equipped with wi-fi and they can strategically place them throughout the district to help students gain online access.
Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said the Normal-based school district is playing catch up as it prepares to implement e-learning.
“We are at the very beginning steps,” Daniel conceded. “Those steps are what are other districts doing? Let’s look at those other processes, hopefully learn from some of the beginning woes they may have had so we can avoid those beginning woes.”
Daniel said Unit 5 has resisted digital learning because of the challenges in accommodating special needs students and its large percentage of students who rely on breakfast and lunch the schools serve.
“How do we continue to provide them with their breakfast and lunch, because we also have a large population of students who rely on reduced lunch or free lunch?” Daniel asked.
Schools can't turn away a student unless they are showing symptoms of the virus.
Each of the districts have sent communications to parents and have talked to students urging them to take precautions to limit their risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus.
District 87 has one grade school student currently in Italy. Reilly said the district is asking the family to self-quarantine for a week and come back after spring break on March 30.
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