By Chris Fox

For The Elmhurst Independent

The Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board held a regular meeting on July 14. All seven members participated in the meeting, which took place remotely, with the board and staff members communicating online. The meeting lasted nearly 5 hours, 30 minutes.

District’s s Plan for a safe, healthy place for 5 to 8 weeks

Near the end of the meeting, board members voted unanimously to approve a resolution approving “Open D205: A Plan for Health, Safety and Rigorous Learning for the 2020-21 School Year.” The plan calls for in-person instruction, five days per week, at the district’s elementary schools. The plan directs the district’s middle schools and York High School to offer a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction in the upcoming school year, with one group of students attending school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and another group attending school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays.

Under the district’s plan, a parent or guardian of any district student may choose to have their child educated remotely.

Like all other K-12 schools in Illinois, District 205 schools were closed to in-person instruction in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s schools remained closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Public forum draws 60+ speakers about re-opening schools

The beginning of the July 14 meeting featured a reading of more than 60 public comments. Board member Courtenae Trautmann read the comments, which were submitted before the meeting. A vast majority of comments were related to the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Several of the comments urged the board to keep school buildings closed to in-person instruction at the start of the upcoming school year. Other comments encouraged the district to open and provide in-person instruction to begin the 2020-21 school year.

Before district staff members gave a presentation providing details about the plan, District 205 Board President Kara Caforio referred to the challenges the board faced as it considered how to begin the upcoming school year. Caforio asked the community for understanding and grace as the board and administration discussed options for the start of the 2020-21 school year in District 205. The district includes approximately 8,500 students and about 1,500 staff members.

District 205 Superintendent David Moyer noted that the district developed a planning committee of nearly 80 people to consider its plans for the 2020-21 school year. The committee included district administrators, teachers, parents, staff members, board members and community members. The committee held its first meeting on May 27.

Moyer stated that the State of Illinois did not provide much information or direction regarding the start of the school year. He said that the committee modeled its plan after the policy of the public school district in Jefferson County, Colorado.

Moyer said that District 205’s plan is based on the best information currently available. He said the plan will allow the district to pivot and be agile as events change. Speaking about the plan, Moyer said the district’s top priority is the health and safety of all students and employees. Other main priorities of the plan include ensuring the social-emotional needs of students, providing students with a rigorous education that promotes student growth and maintaining legally sound practices that protect the district from liability.

Moyer added that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has strongly encouraged in-person attendance in the upcoming school year, especially for children 13 and under. He said that state regulation allows for five blended remote learning days during the school year. He said the district plans to use three of those days on Aug. 19, Aug. 20 and Aug. 21. The first day of in-person classes will take place on Monday, Aug. 24. The District 205 school year was initially scheduled to begin with in-person classes on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Masks will be required for everyone inside school buildings. Social distancing, as much as possible, will also be required. A maximum of 50 people will be allowed per space inside each school.

The district will also undertake an increased level of cleaning and disinfecting in all of its schools.

IHSA has yet to announce fall sports schedule

Speaking about athletics at York High School, Moyer said during the July 14 meeting that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has not committed on what it will recommend for the fall 2020 season. Moyer said that as much as he and everyone else would like to see sports, marching band, choir and other extracurricular activities at York, it is unlikely that many of those programs will take place this fall.

Face masks to be required on buses

Jen Conwell, the district’s health services supervisor, stated that in addition to being required in schools, face coverings will be required on district school buses. Conwell said districts are allowed to have parents self-certify their children’s health. She added that the district will emphasize personal health and hygiene practices to students. There will also be signage in schools reminding students to maintain social distancing.

If students and staff members have any symptoms of COVID-19, they are advised not to come to school, and to seek medical attention. Each district school will have an isolation area, said Conwell, who also said the district will collaborate with public health officials.

Christopher Whelton, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance and operations, stated that no more than 50 individuals will be allowed on a district school bus route at one time. Sanitization of buses will be completed daily, or between use.

Todd Schmidt, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, said the district will use electrostatic sprayers nightly to disinfect schools. Custodians will frequently disinfect—at least daily—high-touch surfaces at each school. Each district classroom will have a bottle of hand sanitizer and cleaner or disinfectant. Additional hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout each school building.

Schmidt said the district will ensure that the ventilation systems and fans operate properly at each school, and work to increase circulation of outdoor air inside of each school. The district will also increase the frequency of air filtration filter replacements from three times to year to every other month.

Lunch to be served in small groups

Lunch at each school will take place in groups of less than 50 students. Because face coverings must be removed while eating, students will be required to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. Hand hygiene must be performed before and after consuming food. Areas where students eat will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between groups and after meals. Whelton mentioned later in the meeting that the district is exploring a variety of options related to lunch logistics, including the potential of purchasing a tent to allow students to eat outside.

Drinking fountains in each school will be shut down. Touchless filtered water bottles will be open; they will be cleaned and sanitized regularly.

District staff members noted during the July 14 meeting that students in middle school and high school move around within the school more than elementary school students. That movement is one reason why students in grades 6-12 will experience a hybrid schedule featuring in-person and remote instruction. As mentioned earlier, any parent or guardian can choose fully remote education for his or her student.

According to the district, students and families in all District 205 schools should be prepared to fully implement remote instruction if the need arises.

In grades 6-12, students will be divided into two groups—Group A and Group B. Students in Group A will attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and learn remotely on Thursdays and Fridays. Students in Group B will learn remotely on Mondays and Tuesdays and attend school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays.

The student groupings at each school will take place in the coming weeks.

Plans for Wednesdays, which are still being developed, will likely feature academic and social-emotional focused programming, or grade-level focused programming. About 25 to 33 percent of the students from each group (A and B) will reportedly be in school buildings on Wednesdays.

District administrators noted that limited attendance on Wednesdays will allow for more thorough cleanings of school buildings between attendance from Groups A and B.

Scott Grens, the district’s assistant superintendent of innovation and growth, stated during the July 14 meeting that the district’s plan for remote learning during the upcoming school year incorporates feedback from a May 2020 survey of parents, students and staff members. Grens noted that the remote learning in the spring of 2020 was developed in a matter of days. He said the district needs to improve its level of personalized instruction in its remote education during the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, staff members need more professional learning experiences, as well as more resources to assist struggling students.

Increased community engagement

Bev Redmond, the district’s executive director of communications and public relations, told the board that the Open D205 plan calls for increased community engagement for district parents, staff members and the community at large. The district’s website—elmhurst205.org—now includes a microsite called OpenD205 that will convey information about several issues, including remote and hybrid learning plans, school schedules and meal distribution. The microsite will also include a list of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Redmond said the district will continue to provide information to its stakeholders through its regularly scheduled E-newsletters, as well as through a variety of social media outlets and voice and text messages.

Near the end of the administration’s presentation of the Open D205 plan, Moyer reiterated that information will continue to evolve over the next few weeks.

Discussing the plan, board members thanked the administrators and everyone else who contributed to developing the Open D205 guidelines. Board members noted the challenges in having one plan that satisfies parents with a variety of perspectives. Several board members said they appreciated that the plan is flexible and includes the option of allowing parents to choose strictly remote education for their child.

What happens when someone tests positive…

Responding to board members’ questions about what would happen if a student or staff member tested positive for COVID-19, Conwell stated there are protocols in place that the district would follow. She said a school would not typically identify a positive case, but would be notified by a parent, health department or medical provider. Conwell said that if the district is notified of a positive case, the district is required to report it to the DuPage County Health Department. Conwell added that the ability to isolate and quarantine is essential to eliminate the further spread of COVID-19.

The board will hold its next meeting on Aug. 11.

 

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