School District 65 has outlined its remote-learning plan in a report, “Reimagining Education, A Guide to the 2020-2021 School Year,” and it provided additional information in a 90-minute online town hall session in which administrators presented answers to pre-submitted questions on July 29.

Superintendent Devon Horton opened the town hall saying, “As we're turning into an unveiling of our plan, there's a lot of thought, a lot of effort. And as we speak about equity in our priorities, this is where we are grounded by those values. There's no roadmap for what we're going to face. We're all facing tough decisions and what doesn't feel like good options. But understanding we can make a lot of right decisions, definitely we don't want to make the wrong one.”

He said he was thankful for the administrative team at the District, the union leadership, the 60-member task force that provided input on possible options, and community partners in helping to put together a Return to School Plan.

Under the Return to School Plan, all students will begin the school year on Aug. 27 with remote learning. The remote learning will continue for all students through at least Sept.  29.

An in-person option is scheduled to begin on Sept. 29, if it is safe to do so.

Parents are required to choose by Aug. 5 whether their children would be in the remote learning path or in the in-person learning path (sometimes referred to as on-site learning). If more students chose in-person learning than the District can accommodate, the District plans to give a priority to students who have been historically marginalized.

The remote learning plan will be 5¾ hours per day and include both live and recorded instruction. The District will ensure that all students have an iPad or Chromebook and access to WiFi. Students may participate in the free- and reduced-fee lunch program. Academic, mental health, and emotional supports will be available.

Despite extensive efforts, many parents are concerned how they can maintain their jobs and simultaneously provide their child or children the supervision and supports needed to make remote learning a success.

An Overview of the Remote Learning Plan

Under the District’s plan, “remote learning is designed to achieve the same learning outcomes as the in-person learning environment with the goal of accelerating learning outcomes for our students,” says the District’s report, Reimagining Education.

“We are working on defining a consistent set of expectations and structures for both our on-site learning and our remote learning,” said Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, at the town hall meeting.

“There is going to be a set of clear expectations for the way in which we spend our learning time on a daily basis.”

Remote learning will take place Mondays through Fridays, and will have an official start time with an established routine for each day. “We're really looking at a full instructional day for the fall,” said Dr. Beardsley.

 For the K-5 grades, Dr. Beardsley said, a morning meeting of remote learners will be held each day “to build community.” A meeting will be held at the end of the day for students “to reconnect learning, ask questions, and understand what's coming in the next day.”

All K-8 students will be expected to engage in all subject areas either through live or recorded lessons. “The live lessons will be recorded so that students have an opportunity to listen to them at different times if they are not able to make the scheduled time,” said Dr. Beardsley, adding, “We really are looking to increase the amount of live educator engagement in the younger grades,” said Dr. Beardsley.

She said the District has been investing in different curriculum materials with more video recorded instruction. Students can be released to watch these videos on their own, and teachers can use that time to engage and support students in small groups.

Social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and community building are integrated into core instructional content.

In addition, students will be provided opportunities to do independent and collaborative engagement tasks that are aligned to classroom instruction, such as collaborative brainstorming, interactive videos, peer feedback, and book clubs.

Students will be expected to turn in work assignments through an online platform. The deadlines for turning in assignments will have “some flexibility,” but students will be expected to do the work and demonstrate that they have mastered the material and meet learning targets.

Students will receive feedback on their engagement and learning, and they will also receive grades. Dr. Beardsley said the grading policies will be the same for students in the remote learning pathway as those in the in-person learning pathway.

An Academic Support Hotline will be available to students and families.

The Reimaging Education report gives sample schedules for a remote learning day. The sample schedules are as follows:

Grades K-5, Sample Schedule:

  • Live interactions:  
  • Morning Meeting and Social-Emotional Check-in and Learning at 9 a.m.
  • Afternoon Class Check-In at 3 p.m.
  • Students will engage in daily instruction in all content areas including: Math, English Language Arts, Social Studies/Science, the Arts, Computer Science or Library. 
  • The schedule will vary based upon the school and the grade.  
  • Instruction will be in the form of shorter lessons with opportunities for small group time while students are working independently.  
  • PE & Fine Arts are provided at a designated time daily for grade levels and will be recorded for later viewing.

Grade 6-8, Sample Schedule

  • Live interactions and classes will begin at 8:30 a.m. and conclude by 3:35 p.m.
  • Students will engage in daily instruction in all content areas including: Math, English Language Arts, Social Studies/Science, the Arts, Advisory/World Language, and PE. Note: some classes may not occur daily to reduce the number of class meetings per day. In this situation, students will have longer class sessions than classes that meet daily. 
  • Instruction will be in the form of shorter lessons with opportunities for small group time while students are working independently.  
  • Class schedules will vary depending upon the student’s grade level, school, and specials rotation.  

Simultaneous Learning with On-Site Students?

One parent asked if the same teacher will teach simultaneously both students who are engaged in remote learning and those engaged in on-site learning.

“There are some situations where students may be learning simultaneously at home with students that are in on-site classrooms,” said Dr. Beardsley. “As we're looking at this, we're looking at what seems to be the most developmentally appropriate method. I think our older students can manage that environment better than our younger students. So we're more likely to keep our learning environments separate in our younger grades.”

She added, “Students will be learning the same materials and generally the same content, whether you are on site or remote. And the way we're going to manage this is we want to give educators flexibility to be responding to student needs while still holding on to pacing. So classrooms may not be in the exact place day in and day out, but at key markers through the year, the classrooms will be asked to be at the same place.”

She added that educators will be given “the flexibility to adjust instruction to meet students’ needs within reason.”

Beginning of Year Assessments

Dr. Beardsley said, “We are in the process of finalizing our assessment plan for the year, and most likely will administer a computerized assessment across most of the grade levels to get some immediate information about students’ baseline skills. She added that they want educators to build relationships, and assess students in the authentic work “so that we can balance that information and begin to teach to students’ needs.”

Technology

District 65 will provide every child who chooses to participate in remote learning with a District-issued device, either a Chromebook or an iPad.

The District will provide families who do not have or cannot afford home internet access with District-issued hot spots.

Parents Concerned How They Can Manage

Several parents raised concerns that young children could not be expected to do 5¾ hours of remote learning a day, and asked whether it was realistic to expect that parents could instruct or guide their children while they were working full time.  

One parent said, “I strongly believe that five and a half hours of online learning for a 6-year-old is detrimental to their development.” The parent added that it was unrealistic to expect that parents could commit that amount of time to remote learning and unrealistic to expect a 6-year old to do so.

“This is a dilemma that I think many people are in with young students,” said Dr. Beardsley. “And the learning that we are going to provide is going to be a balance of some online learning and some activity that they can do away from screens, and realistically, the level of support that each student requires does vary based on the students themselves.

“But I will say that a 6-year-old will require, over the course of the day, some degree of support. We cannot, it's not a reasonable expectation that the educator will be keeping them fully engaged for that full branch of time.”

Another parent posed the question this way, “Is it feasible to assume a parent can work from home full-time nine to five and passively oversee their children for basic safety while the child is actively and self-sufficiently engaged in school activities for several hours? Or will they likely need pretty involved parent engagement and help, which means working parents will have to either hire help, reduce hours, fall behind at work, or help their child outside of work hours, or find a nice person who will help their child free, or have their young kids figuring it out.”

“I do know this is a challenge,” said Dr. Beardsley. “One thing that we are trying to do for our younger students, again, we're going to be working with a kindergarten team is to think about how we balance learning activities, how we embed activities that are away from screens, activities that would have some degree of independence.

“And young students, however, do require some degree of support. And so we will make videos that are recorded so that if there are times when support can be available at a different time of day, that families may be able to access some of that at that time. So we will try to design some flexibility to be able to create different opportunities if a student does require support.”

One parent of children with special needs and IEPs said she had to work during the day and asked how the District would meet her child’s needs during the time the District was using only remote learning.

“This is a difficult question and I know many of our families are grappling with this,” said Romy DeCristofaro, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services. “I know we're all trying to balance schedules and also support learning at home. … Students will continue to receive instruction via pre-recorded videos, online learning platforms and more synchronous or teletherapy learning opportunities which we're hoping will require less parent involvement,” she said.

She added that the District will be using paraprofessionals more efficiently to support students, and that it planned to talk to community partners “to see how we might be able to connect resources with families at home that can provide any additional support.”

Another parent asked if parents could be told in advance about the lessons so they could be prepared for the week.

Dr. Beardsley said, “Our current planning does include the upfront assignments at the beginning of the week. So people have notice of the work that students will be expected to be engaged in and sending to educators. And our current plan is also that if there is live instruction, that that will be recorded and made available so it can be accessed at other times. We are also looking at the right balance of flexible deadlines for work in order to keep an accountability measure with flexibility for our students and our families.”

Students with an IEP

“Regardless of the learning path you select, your child will have access to IEP services,” said Ms. DeCristofaro.

“All students will start with an individual remote learning plan that will continue to guide services and supports for students who remain in remote learning. Then for students who transition to in-person learning, there will be added opportunity for in person instruction that will be built into those plans.

“Your child's case manager or a school representative will contact you in the beginning of the school year to touch base and to schedule a meeting to update or develop your child's individualized remote learning plan.”

Students in the TWI Program

“Remote TWI classrooms will look like other remote learning classrooms with just the obvious difference of language instruction,” said Ms. DeCristofaro. “Remote learning will include units of study designed in Spanish, as well as math and Spanish, depending on the grade level and the language allocation, some units and social studies and science will also be provided in Spanish.”

Access to School Libraries

“We are still assessing whether we will reopen our libraries for book distribution in the fall,” said Dr. Beardsley. “We are expanding our digital book resources so that students will have access to the digital book resources at a minimum. If we do open the libraries for physical book distribution, remote students will have the same access as our on-site students.”

Support for Students

Ms. Decristofaro, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services, said, “Every student will be assigned a classroom teacher, a primary educator for K-5, a primary educator for middle school and an educator for each of their content areas. And that's the individual that will be in charge of supporting the student in their learning in the particular classes that they are assigned. And so there will be a good level of support for students across the day and across content.”

Teachers may support students in live small group sessions.

Andelib Khelghati, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said the social workers and all educators would provide support to students who might experiencing PTSD, trauma, grief, or anything that is associated with the pandemic or anything else. He added, “We're also collaborating with outside agencies and community partners to provide any additional supports for our students and families.”

Dr.Khelghati added, “We have a commitment to instructional equity, particularly along racial lines. We've worked very hard to improve the curricular resources that are going to be available for delivering math and literacy instruction and our teachers are going to be more prepared for that from a remote space.

“We're also expanding the tools available for students to be able to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, whether it's audio, visual or writing and drawing, and we want to increase the way in which that we progress monitor.

“We have also expanded our web based tools to be able to support independent learning.”

Dr. Khelghati summarized other systems, including the MTSS system of supports and the spotlight system, that the District planned to use to support students.

Teacher Training for Remote Learning

Last Spring, teacher training for remote learning focused around the tools, said Dr. Beardsley. This August, the professional learning will “focus on what does high quality remote learning look like? And that would be focused on student engagement, assessing student understanding, responding to data to do small groups, and the learning strategies will then be connected to the tools underneath that will help our educators do that work.”

Virtual Office Hours

“Currently what we're working towards is not necessarily that teachers will have virtual office hours because the instructional expectation and the engagement expectation is larger than in the spring,” said Dr. Beardsley.

“Yet, what we want to do is be able to share with families the best way to contact our educators and the best time to contact educators. So we will not have a similar office hour structure from the spring, yet we will have dedicated time to be able to contact and understand the response the expectation from your teacher.”

School Meals

School meals, including breakfast and lunch, will be made available to all students participating in remote learning. Pricing will be reflective of Free/Reduced or Paid meal status.

Priority for In-Class Learning

The number of spaces for on-site learning is limited by two factors: building space and teacher availability

First, to comply with applicable guidelines, Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial Officer, said administrators, together with the District’s architect, determined the maximum number of students that could attend each of the District’s schools, taking into account the 6-foot spacing requirement and other guidelines approved by ISBE and IDPH.

The maximum number of students allowed in each building are as follows: JEH 172; Chute 466, Dawes 354, Dewey 359, Haven 556, King Arts 388, Kingsley  275, Lincoln 486, Lincolnwood 291, Nichols 418, Oakton 335, Orrington 303, Park 181, Bessie Rhodes 343, Walker 276, Washington 416, and Willard 297.

Historically, the enrollment at each school significantly exceeds these numbers.

The second factor that may impact enrollment in on-site learning is the number of teachers who are willing to teach on site, due to concerns about being infected by COVID-19. Some teachers may have a concern based on their own risk factors or of people in their household. At this point it appears that he District is honoring teachers’ decisions on whether to teach on-site or not.

Latarsha Green, Deputy Superintendent, said that one of the District’s task forces considered what the District should do in the event more students applied to take on-site learning than there were available slots. She said the task force and administrators decided to give the following categories of students a priority: “students receiving free or reduced lunch, Black and Brown students, students who received an I [Incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals, and students with IEPs. There are also other categories in relation to students who are not performing according to reading or math grade-level expectations, and students with no comorbidity factors.”

Dr. Horton said in terms of prioritizing, “we'll be targeting our dependent learners. Those are students that are marginalized first, as far as how we will serve them.

“We are in a pandemic,” Dr. Horton continued. And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently. But there was a pandemic before this. That was inequity and racism, and classism and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we're making a decision – no decision is going to make everyone happy – we understand that. We're trying to support every single child to the best of our ability, and we can't allow a political cash train to take over our decision-making regarding how we return our students to school. We have to make sure that students who've been oppressed, that we don't continue to oppress them and that we give them opportunity.

“I've heard for quite some time that this is a community that's about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, or LGBTQ students. We know that this is an important work, and we're going to prioritize that.