Administration approves new back-to-school plan beginning with E-learning


graphic by district 225 administration

Emily Blumberg and Ella Naugle

The 2020-2021 school year will begin on August 19 with e-learning, although newly created policies prove that it will look much different than the previous spring semester, according to District and South administrators. The Board of Education approved Monday night the four step Learning and Operational Plan created by the administrative team. 

The school year will begin with Step One: structured E-Learning, Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel said. There will be four, 90-minute blocks with Zoom classes, requiring cameras to be turned on, in an effort to increase student participation. Teachers will be allowed to come back into the building, but are not expected to. Clubs have permission to meet in the building if they are following guidelines, however, sports will follow ISHA guidelines, Fagel explained.

Matthew Whipple, Social Studies teacher said online instruction will be more meaningful compared to the spring semester. Whipple found frustrating the lack of synchronous classes last spring, and said it was hard to engage his students. Whipple is hopeful to get back into the building, however he is confident in the changes made to E-learning, in order to make it more successful.

“Fortunately the limitations of the spring have been removed, this is a good start,” Whipple said. “I am confident that any E-Learning plans will be much more successful and engaging for students and staff.” 

Fagel explained that the district hopes to execute Step Two of the plan after Labour Day. During Step Two, small groups of students will be allowed onto South’s campus. Students who participate in a hands-on class or may benefit from being in the building will make up these groups. Although students will have this in-person learning opportunity, families may opt out of it for a full E-Learning experience.

“We will start identifying students who would benefit from being in the building to do their E-Learning in the building with an adult present,” Fagel said. “We could identify small cohorts of students in the same grade to be part of a group of eight to 10 students.”

Step Three will implement an AM/PM hybrid schedule, according to the “Learning and Operational Plan for the 2020-21 School Year Guide” released by the district. Students would be split alphabetically, rotating AM/PM shifts every two days. This step would not include an in-person lunch break. A meal delivery system will provide meals to families who request them. Step Four would allow for the reopening of South to all students and a return to the normal block schedule. 

The Board intends to announce any movement between steps every two weeks. Taking COVID-19 developments into consideration as well as recommendations from the Illinois and Cook County Departments of Public Health, the district will decide whether to progress, regress or remain on the same step on these dates. Ten days later, the action declared on the announcement date will occur. A detailed guide was emailed to all families, providing resources and more information about this Learning and Operational plan. 

The plan put out by the district outlines seven qualifications in order to move ahead with a further step. The Advisory Committee will discuss every two weeks how best to move ahead with the Four Step plan. The Committee will consist of parents, support staff, teachers, administrations and an infectious disease doctor. Fagel also emphasized the importance of adult supervision in the building, as well as moving forward in accordance to Cook County guidelines.

“The most important [qualification is] the Cook County Department of Public Health guidance,” Fagel said. “They are our local health department that’s really giving us direction when we have positive cases. So if they set a benchmark, we would follow that.”

The community’s response varied at the July 27 board meeting, Fagel said. Community members were allowed to leave three-minute voicemails voicing their support or concerns that were listened to during the meeting. Parents remained divided on what steps should be taken to have students return to school safely for the fall semester. 

“I would say you have three camps of people,” Fagel said. “You have people vehemently opposed to this plan because they think we should be back in school on day one. You have people on the other extreme saying we shouldn’t come back into the building until there is a vaccine. Most of the people we’ve heard from are in that middle space where they feel that this is a good compromise and a moderate approach.”

South Junior Catherine East was glad the district took the opinions of students and staff  into consideration when creating a plan for reopening. She believes the structure of E-Learning will improve for the upcoming school year. 

“With a structured schedule and required live sessions I think [E-Learning will] be more engaging and there will be more of a social aspect,” East said. “I think that [e-learning]  will be better than what occurred last semester, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I can improve from it.”

A number of steps will be taken to ensure a smooth transition for incoming freshmen, including webinars and a chance to tour the building before school starts. Freshmen will also be encouraged to join Peer Group, an optional program that allows small groups of freshmen to participate in team building activities with senior leaders, Fagel said. Freshman Marie Koo still feels saddened by this non-traditional transition to high school, however, she appreciates the time put in by staff to ease this change. 

“One of the things I was most looking forward to when starting high school was having the opportunity to meet new people and make more friends,” Koo said. “However, I’m very grateful for our teachers working so hard to bring us the best experiences and education we can have from home.