District 186 rolls out Return to Learn plan (SJ-R.com, 7/21/20)

By Steven Spearie
The State Journal-Register

Springfield School District 186 will offer to families two plans–hybrid/blended in-person and remote learning only–as part of its 33-page “Return to Learn” document.

The document, put together by 100 teacher leaders from the district, the Springfield Education Association and the Illinois Education Association, was rolled out District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill at the school board’s virtual meeting Monday.

It comes as COVID-19 cases spike in Sangamon County. Twenty-two new cases were reported Monday.

But former school board president and current board member Mike Zimmers expressed his skepticism about in-person learning.

“I’m not sure it is safe for our students and our teachers to go back into our buildings,” said Zimmers, a former teacher.

In the hybrid/blended model, elementary, middle and high school students would attend school at least two days and possibly up to four days depending on enrollment numbers.

Pre-kindergarten students would attend in-person four days with one day of independent remote learning.

Gill said remote learning students would be asked to stick to that model until the end of first semeter, which is Dec. 18.

The plan includes the return, Gill said, of district-wide grading practices and attendance requirements.

Temperature and health screening will be done daily upon entrance into the school and face masks will be required.

“We know there’s a lot of stress around this topic,” Gill said, “but this is not a gray area.”

The district is in the process of hiring additional custodial staff to do extra cleaning and sanitizing.

Buildings will be planning different cohort scheduling to move different way around the building, Gill said, so “we can make sure we’re not having too many people in one space at the same time.”

Parents would have to sign up students at https://www.sps186.org by July 31.

The in-person learning numbers affect everything from staffing to transportation.

“The numbers are extremely important,” Gill said.

The board will vote on the plan at its Aug. 3 meeting. That could come, Gill said, with an updated school calendar.

Currently, the school year opens Aug. 24.

Zimmers, who spent four-and-a-half decades in the classroom, said he would not vote for a blended model return

“I believe that this (hybrid) plan can protect our kids moving forward with it,” said Board President Scott McFarland, who has three students in the district and plans to enroll them in it.

Board member Judith Johnson wondered if the district couldn’t start with remote learning with a reconsideration by Oct. 1, an idea board member Micah Miller agreed with.

Johnson earlier said she wanted teachers and administrators “held accountable” if they fail to wear masks.

Gill said “at any point in time we could return every student to fully remote learning if the data for our region calls for this.”

Board member Tiffany Mathis said she was disappointed by the closure Sunday of the Illinois Department of Public Health-run COVID-19 drive-through testing site in the Sangamon County Public Health Department parking lot.

Mathis, who is also the executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois, said she hoped the site would have been a means of testing for students returning from out of town.

“It was the only testing site you could take your children to in Sangamon County when they weren’t symptomatic,” Mathis said.

Gill agreed it was “a huge loss for the community.”

This story will be updated.

Contact Steven Spearie: 622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/stevenspearie.

Source: https://www.sj-r.com/news/20200720/district-186-rolls-out-return-to-learn-plan