Throughout the summer, the district expressed concerns on their website regarding the rising COVID-19 rates in DuPage County, causing a delay in the return to school on Sept. 3 and the continuance of online learning through Oct. 30.
The district first mentioned the new school year on June 8, 2020, through their official website: “As of June 8, 2020, the District is using a new Student Information System, Synergy. With the new student information system, we focused on and are delivering several key improvements for this year’s online registration experience.”
The website’s paragraph, found in the News tab of ipsd.org, listed information about online registration and how to use the new login systems that were installed over the summer. However, this initial paragraph published on June 8 held little reply to parents’ most pressing question: What the district planned to do to manage coronavirus spread in the new school year.
Over the summer, cases of SARS-COV-2 (commonly referred to as COVID-19 or the Coronavirus) have dramatically increased. While it was believed that the pandemic would cease in time for attending in-person school, the increase in cases has defied this past belief, and has led to parents, students, and teachers around the country worrying about their educational future and health.
“I don’t know that there is a perfect answer for how to bring 3,000 plus kids back into a school safely,” social studies teacher Benaiah Lundy said.
At the same time, however, his fears for safety were accompanied by the uncertainty of what any alternative could bring.
“I understand that some students have a more difficult time learning on a digital platform, so that needs to be considered,” Lundy said.
This was a statement shared by teachers, parents, and students: How would the district fulfill the students’ educational needs while still keeping them safe?
204 planned to address both these needs with optimism. On June 24, the Illinois State Board of Education released guidelines for schools to follow when reopening in the fall.
“The guidance includes information on in-person learning, restrictions on the number of people who can gather, social distancing, wearing face masks, transportation, and other safety measures for students and staff,” stated ipsd.org on that day.
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said that schools should prioritize in-person instruction while following said guidelines and “creative scheduling will be needed to meet the goal and describe a potential school environment that will look different.”
204 sent a survey to the parents of their students asking them what they hoped to see in the 20-21 school year schedule earlier in July. Results revealed that many parents viewed complete online learning as their last choice and that most wanted partial in-person learning for their child. As a result, 204 decided to give both in-person and online options for parents to choose from, referred to as the ABC Schedule and the Online Academy.
The Online Academy, however, carried fewer class options for students than its in-person counterpart. This, in addition to the rising cases of COVID-19 and an increase in students selecting the online academy instead of the ABC schedule option when compared to the survey, leads the district to formally announce that all classes and students would only be able to enroll in online classes until at least October 30. The ABC schedule was fully discontinued.
In light of all the recent changes due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the district administration did not take these decisions lightly.
“These factors included a significant increase in the number of students selecting the online academy over what people originally selected in the survey,” District 204 Superintendent Adrian Tally said. “Additionally, we were seeing a slight uptick in the COVID-19 positivity cases in our area. I do believe the decision was right because ultimately it ensures the health and safety of our students, staff, and our community.”
For reference, according to information released to the Daily Herald more than 45% of IPSD students chose the online academy option when registering for the school year.
However, Talley admitted that the online learning plan was not perfect, listing one of the key concerns of the new plan– and how the district intended to combat it. “The one concern, that I do believe can be overcome, is ensuring that our teachers establish a relationship with the students,” Talley said.
For students, they also held mixed opinions regarding the learning systems.
“I noticed the death toll has recently increased over the summer, which is why I would rather do Online Academy,” sophomore Mia Robins said.
Meanwhile, sophomore Tatiana Mcburnie felt differently about the fall plans.
“Going back to school certain days of the week would not have been bad because we would get the ability to be in the classroom and halls of our fellow classmates,” Mcburnie said.
While Online Learning keeps students safe, many wonder if it will be able to fulfill the academic needs of students used to regularly seeing their teacher in the flesh and if a true educational connection can be made.
However, those worries are matched by the fears for student safety if in-person learning resumes, especially given so little is known about the virus and its long-term effects. No one answer seems to solve all issues, and in the end, the school district will only know if it made the correct decision after facing this trial.