Back to school: Return plans more similar than different across Adams, Brown, Hancock and Pike counties

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 2, 2020 12:01 am

LIBERTY, Ill. -- Liberty Superintendent Kelle Bunch plans to start her district's year with two re-entry planning days for staff, a teacher institute day, a half day for students and a full day for students.

Plus designated time to "fix" what's needed before that first full day of classes, and before that first full week of classes.

"We've got a lot of details to work out," Bunch said. "We'll deal with it piece by piece. We want it to go well."

Reviewing return to school plans across Adams, Brown, Hancock and Pike counties finds more similarities than differences – and Bunch said that's by design.

"We've all been communicating through the entire summer. You hope you're doing things in a similar manner, like when you call off school for snow days, you don't want to be that one trying to stay in session. You want to check in with everybody," Bunch said.

All plans incorporate state guidelines for wearing masks, temperature checks and social distancing as much as possible. Students have options for in-person or remote learning.

But plans also fit students and individual communities.

"It's not just one size fits all. Just because one school district is doing something, it may not be the right fit," Bunch said. "These are things we have to follow. How we follow them is kind of up to the school."

Most of the variation comes at the high school level.

"I feel pretty good about our pre-K-8 just because those grades can lend selves to more self-contained," Brown County Superintendent Vicki Phillips said. "If a virus gets going in an area, we can keep rooms self-contained and not affect whole school."

High school schedules typically move students from class to class, period to period, leading to more interaction between larger numbers of students.

All high school students in the Western district will be learning through technology with video lessons available by 8 a.m. for watching before completing assigned work. Families decide whether students attend daily in the classroom, utilize an open learning lab and come to the school as needed to complete work or learn remotely.

If a grade in any subject drops to D-plus or below in the remote or open learning setting, the district's plan said the student will be required to report to school all day every day on a weekly basis until the grade rises above D-plus. Grade monitoring will be every Friday or the following week, much like eligibility.

Liberty parents must decide by Aug. 3 between in-person and remote learning, but will be able to change their mind within the first two weeks of school, or by Sept. 4, to select in-person learning.

"They might have something thought out, get into it and realize it's a huge mistake," Bunch said. "We don't want kids sitting in wrong kind of learning."

Lesson content can be delivered remotely, the district's plan said, by having students attend classes virtually with Google Meets during the scheduled class period, videotaping lessons to be viewed later and/or using Screencastify, a screen recorder for Chrome, to record lessons for later viewing.

Junior high and high school students will follow a block schedule with four classes per day -- A Days for even periods and B Days for odd periods -- as a way to limit the number of class transitions and cleanings needed.

Classes dismiss at 1:30 p.m. every day to allow for remote learning, with staff having "remote learning office hours" from 2 to 3:10 p.m. to upload videos, make phone calls, respond to emails, host Google Meets or prepare remote learning content.

Brown County parents will use an app to certify daily that their child is free of COVID symptoms and healthy to attend school.

"That first week when we come back in person, we'll do kind of a boot camp for kids to get them prepared for when or if we move over to remote learning, so they're more prepared this time," Phillips said. "We'll do some boot camp for parents -- what it will look like we don't know yet -- to give parents insight how things work, how to upload a document."

In the Pikeland district, the school year will begin with four days of split attendance -- two sections of kindergarten and grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 one day and two sections of kindergarten and grades 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 the next -- both for in-person and remote learning.

Virtual school is an option for Pikeland students presenting a medical statement from a licensed physician exempting them from the classroom/school attendance requirement – or for students making a written request to the superintendent – by Aug. 7, the district's website said. Remote learners will need a "virtual school adult of record" to maintain a log accounting for five hours of instruction each day.

Illini West students will follow a block schedule, taking four classes first quarter and four different classes second quarter, except for math which will be a semester class, according to the district's plan. Classrooms will be set up for remote learning, with students at home able to ask questions while classes are being taught.

Maintaining a positive attitude will be key for the coming school year in all area districts.

"We all have to try very hard to make the best of this. That's going to be a critical piece in the success of this," Bunch said.

"We have to work with what we've got. These are the guidelines. If families don't understand something or are frustrated, reach out to your teacher, reach out to your school and let them know that," she said. "It doesn't matter what school district you're affiliated with. Educators are touchy-feely kind of people who do not want anybody out there frustrated. So if you are, let them know that. Talk to them."