MOUNT STERLING, Ill. -- All high school students in the Brown County school district will learn remotely to start the 2020-21 year.
"Remote learning is the only option to be able to do two things at once -- mitigate the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus while ensuring that the students have access to their content area teachers," Superintendent Vicki Phillips said. The district hasn't set a time limit on the plan, but "we're hoping this is temporary," Phillips said. "We'll keep an eye on what the issues are and the risks versus the benefits of being in-person versus being remote."
Pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students will have the option of in-person or remote learning.
The School Board adopted the plan, unique in the region, last week while focusing on what Phillips called "the big picture" of what's best for high, middle and elementary school students.
"We strongly believe that being in-person is the best way for students, but we also believe a continuum ranges from high school to pre-K in terms of the likelihood that remote learning could be successful. We think it could be successful with the younger kids, but we know it requires a lot more adult interaction from the remote side of things," Phillips said.
"We are trying to look at this based on students' developmental needs, social needs, academic needs, of course, and being reasonable about at what level of independence students can be expected to handle remote learning."
The district's 220 high school students have two options for remote learning.
Students can choose to work with district teachers with classes meeting every morning and independent work time every afternoon. Teachers will have "office hours" daily and can meet in-person with students by appointment when needed.
"At 8 o'clock, school will still begin just like it always does. Kids will still report to class. It's just that it will be remotely," Phillips said. "We will have to really work with those families that do not have good internet access. We will be sending home computers for every student, so the device won't be the issue, but we know there are some issues with internet access."
Brown County students also can enroll in the Illinois Virtual School, through the Illinois State Board of Education. Students must take at least five courses and "have to commit to completing that through the whole semester" even if the high school returns to in-person learning, Phillips said.
IVS also will be the remote learning option for students in grades 6 to 8, and for the lower grades, "Brown County teachers will provide for those families who do not want their students to be coming to school," Phillips said.
Even though high school students won't be at school for breakfast or lunch, the meals still can be provided.
"They have to let us know they want that," Phillips said. "They'll do a Monday pickup like they have been all summer. They call and let us know how many students, then they basically drive through and we load them up for five breakfasts and five lunches for the coming week."
The high school plan not only reduces the risk associated with COVID-19 but it helps the district with limiting the number of students riding the bus.
"We are very actively asking parents even if their students are eligible for the school bus to at least consider being able to bring and pick up their kids every day," Phillips said. "With a bus monitor/aid and a driver, there's only room for 48 kids."