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Two O’Fallon school districts choose remote learning

The Central 104 School Board held a special meeting on August 4 with the board and a small number of parents in person, and live streamed the video via the district’s YouTube channel. (Photo from Central School District 104 YouTube channel)

By Angela Simmons, Weekly Reporter

O’FALLON- Two O’Fallon school districts voted to begin the year with remote learning. District 90 and District 104 held special board meetings on Tuesday, August 4, to address plan changes as staffing needs and county and regional COVID-19 metrics, along with additional CDC guidance, forced Return to Learn plan reevaluations.

President Donald Trump, along with CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, all recently explained that schools located in hot spots should start the school year with remote learning. Redfield later clarified that a hot spot is any are with a positivity percentage over five percent.

St. Clair County has been at weekly positivity rate of 8.3 percent according to Illinois Department of Public Health metrics. The rate, along with other factors including more than triple the target rate of cases per 100,000 residents, has placed the county on a list of 11 that Governor JB Pritzker issued warnings to for roll backs and increased mitigations, along with being on the verge of regional roll backs.

Additionally, O’Fallon is the community with the third highest rate of COVID in the county, according to IDPH and St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency statistics.

These factors were only part of the equation that Superintendent Dawn Elser and Superintendent Carrie Hruby considered before making recommendations to their respective boards of education.

District 104

During the special board meeting, Elser announced that 47 percent of the district’s families chose remote learning, and trying to shift staff members to accommodate both remote and in-person learning would lead to imbalanced class sizes of 30 or more for either option. In the interest of the health and safety of students and staff, as well as to avoid having to hire additional staff members, District 104 voted to adopt a staged plan similar to Mascoutah with four stages, each designed to bring students back in increasingly higher numbers.

The district’s plan stages are:

Stage One: Remote instruction with in-person instructional opportunities for our students with the most significant needs based on their individualized education plans (IEP).

Stage Two: When the COVID-19 spread in St. Clair County has trended down for two weeks or more and we have addressed safety concerns, we will add additional in-person instruction for small groups of 10 or less to attend in-person instruction.

Stage Three: Continued steady or low infection will allow for additional in-person instruction. This phase will be planned out using our blended model as the basis of scheduling additional in-person instruction.

Stage Four: We will continue to introduce more students into the building with some form of blended instruction and increased student and staff interaction in the buildings after 4-6 weeks without increased cases of Covid-19. A full in-person model is the goal.”

The plan notes that the criteria for moving through the stages includes the St. Clair County positivity rate, the stage of the region under the Restore Metrics, and the “number of students requesting remote learning to assess staffing needs.”

The district also voted to push the first day of school back to August 24 to allow for staff members to have more preparation time, and for district families to come in for a short orientation and device pickup.

Further details will be sent t district families, but the week of August 17-21 will be slated for these sessions, which will be 20 minutes long, and will only allow for groups of four or one parent and one student to attend. Families will pick up devices, including Chromebooks that are available for all students, and Wi-Fi hot spots for families that may need them, along with covering device login, Google Classroom and Class Tag registration and tutorials, office hours for district staff, communication expectations, assignment logs, and learning expectations.

Lessons in SEL, language arts, social studies, and math will be “chunked followed by independent work time, group work, individual support” with traditional grading and homework assignments. Specials will not be graded and will be exploratory.

Elser also noted that attendance would need to be taken by 9:00 a.m. each day, and truancy guidelines would be followed. The district would begin in Stage One with the most at risk students attending in-person for services. Preschool will not be offered while the district is remote learning.

District 90

Superintendent Hruby presented information from two separate surveys the district sent to families, including a brief informational survey in early July where over 51 percent of families chose in-person learning and eight percent of families chose fully remote. During the late July survey where families were asked to issue a semester long choice saw one-third of all district families choose remote learning for their 1,200 students.

Presentation information noted a lower number, but the superintendent shared that she had additional remote registrations, and that 300 families still had yet to make their choice, along with families that had not yet registered.

For remote learning, Hruby said District 90 would need 30 elementary teachers and two teams per grade level at the junior high level.

Hruby’s presentation noted that to accommodate both in-person and remote learning, the district “would need to hire 30 elementary teachers, and then cost would be over $1.2 million for grades K-5 only.”

Along with the additional teachers, “A return to in-person would require the district to hire long term substitute teachers and custodians, to ensure coverage in preparation for absences/quarantines.”

On top of the additional hires, as many as 15 students per grade level would need to be transported to schools other than their home school to keep class sizes low for health and safety and special education standards.

Hruby noted that for all of the reasons above, along with COVID-19 statistics, her recommendation was to amend the plan for a fully remote start to the school year. Preschool will still be offered under this plan.

Special Education services were part of the considerations of the new plan, with the possibility of some services being offered in person. (Photo from District 90 Board Docs)

Board member Steve Springer made a motion to keep the two options to choose from, which ultimately failed in a 2-4 vote as Springer and Mat Lloyd voted yes, with Becky Drury, Quennetta Chambers, Mary Lynam-Miller, and Rebecca Huller voting against the motion.

Huller then made a motion to start the school year with remote learning for the first nine weeks, which would carry the district into mid-October. The first quarter is currently slated to end October 22. The board approved the motion in a 5-1 vote, with Huller, Lynam-Miller, Drury, Lloyd, and Chambers voting aye, and Springer voting nay.

Board member Jason Boone was on a flight and was unavailable for these votes.

The board did discuss fall sports, and though the measure was not on the agenda, they voted 4-3 in favor of canceling fall sports.

Hruby added that under the new plan, “To begin the school year, our staff would schedule times for each student to pick up materials, borrow devices and build a rapport with the teachers, administrator and/or aides.”

Further details from the district on the orientation dates, schedules, and remote guidelines are forthcoming. Superintendent Hruby will be a guest on the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency broadcast on Wednesday, August 5 at 3:30 p.m. via their Facebook page live stream.

Shiloh District 85 and OTHS District 203 recently held special negotiations and personnel committee meetings, and both districts are expected to issue any changes to their Return to Learn plans by the end of the week.