By Steven Spearie
The State Journal-Register
The public will hear about fall plans for Springfield School District 186 at the school board’s regularly scheduled Monday meeting.
One of the options will include a hybrid blend of in-person and remote learning, said school board President Scott McFarland.
The 186 Learns Task Force, a joint effort between the Springfield Education Association — the teachers union — and District 186, has been looking at myriad issues over the past several weeks.
While the board won’t take a formal vote on any plan Monday, it will vote on opening up registration to students.
A vote for implementing a plan would be scheduled for the board’s Aug. 3 meeting.
The in-person learning as part of the hybrid model, McFarland said, would not be a five-day experience, but more likely two or three days a week.
McFarland said that it is his understanding that there will be a remote-only opportunity for students.
Registration will give “us a better idea of what kinds of numbers we’re looking at,” McFarland said. “It makes a big difference if 80 percent of our kids want to be in the classroom versus if only 25 percent want to be in the classroom. We really can’t finalize our hybrid plan until we know what our numbers look like.
“There’s obviously a lot of concern, if we do go back into classrooms, how do we ensure it will be done safely?”
Meanwhile, an SEA “Return to Work Plan” survey that generated 669 responses as of Sunday afternoon showed that 59.5% of teachers preferred a remote learning only model.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers, a statewide organization made up of more than 200 local unions throughout Illinois, will call Monday for the school year to begin with remote learning “absent a practical safety plan that includes the guidance provided and incorporates a clear line of responsibility and enforcement.”
McFarland said he is hearing from constituents who are concerned about having to go back to work and how they will handle the day care situation if schools aren’t open. There are other folks who are concerned about the social interaction and the educational loss that their kids are going to feel if they do spend another semester learning remotely, he said.
“For some people, the remote option seems to be the best option. For other families and other parents, there are concerns with that one, too,” he acknowledged.
Board member Micah Miller said his kids aren’t returning to in-person learning.
“They’re going to be remote learning, and I don’t see any reason why we should be going back to school,” Miller said in a recent interview.
“This is a very real virus, and it’s not like the flu. When you see (Illinois’ numbers), where they’ve gone from March until now, we don’t have rapid and readily available testing. We’re flying somewhat blind, and everything is headed in the wrong direction. Even if we wanted this to work, inevitably we’re going to have a positive case after positive case, and it’s just going to be a rolling blackout of school closures. That’s what I suspect.”
Miller ended up working on a safety and logistics subgroup as part of the task force. It looked at issues like the layout of schools and social distancing in light of in-person learning.
“Having gone through that exercise, for every question we were answering, there were more questions we weren’t getting answers to,” Miller said. “Never mind the fact that we’re still in a pandemic and all the reasons why we shut down in March are still here and worse.”
Miller said he doesn’t know how mandatory criteria handed down last month by the Illinois School Board of Education — including face-mask wearing, social distancing and keeping groups under 50 people — will be enforced.
“We’re going to be chronically violating (those things),” Miller maintained. “And these are the things that we’re mandated that we have to adhere to for the safety of the teachers and staff, students and families. If we can’t guarantee that, it just makes no sense why we’re even trying to come back in person.
“I can’t be hypocritical and tell people, it’s OK, but I’m not going to send my kids back.”
Miller said the overwhelming majority of members of the public he’s talked to have reservations about sending their kids back in-person.
″(The reality is) this isn’t going to be like school was (back in March),” Miller said. “We’re going to be working like (heck) to keep kids separated, to keep them somewhat isolated and to keep the faces covered with masks. I know there’s a social aspect they’re missing, but there’s still going to be missing that social aspect if we’re adhering to the guidelines.
“Everybody’s freaked out, and I’m kind of with them.”
“We’re not going to be locked in to sending kids into classrooms that aren’t safe. As I’ve said publicly before, I have three kids in the district. If I don’t feel my kids can go into those schools, I’m not going to vote to send anyone else in there either.”
Regarding remote learning, McFarland said the district is “in a better spot than where we were in March.”
That includes, he said, getting technology, like Chromebooks, into the hands of students. The district continues to work with the city and certain internet vendors, like Comcast, to make sure students have internet access.
Miller said he isn’t endorsing remote learning either, “but it seems like the most logical and rational decision. In mid-March we basically made the decision that our No. 1 priority was the health and safety of everyone throughout (the district) and in our community. Education isn’t the No. 1 priority. It’s keeping people safe, keeping people alive and getting through this pandemic. That’s where my mindset still is.”
McFarland cautioned that the situation remains fluid.
“A lot could happen between Aug. 3 and when we go to reopening,” he said. “We’re subject to a lot of the environmental issues. That’s what I would want to impart to folks and anyone who has contacted me. Nothing is set in stone.
“The top priority is ensuring the safety of everyone in those buildings.”
The meeting can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/user/SPSchannel22. The boardroom (1900 W. Monroe St.) will be open, but attendance is limited, and social distancing rules will be enforced. Priority for in-person meeting attendance will be given to those without home internet service or a smartphone.
Contact Steven Spearie: 622-1788, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/stevenspearie.