Elementary students back in the classroom? School board members to weigh their options tonight

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A screenshot from tonight’s school board presentation on a return to remote learning.

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Another area school board is grappling with how much longer remote learning will continue for students in its district.

Students in the Urbana school district have been learning remote since March, when Governor JB Pritzker issued an executive order closing schools in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, with county COVID-19 metrics trending downward, officials are considering whether or not to bring some students back into buildings. While remote learning has worked “well for a large number of students, some of our most vulnerable, marginalized students are not engaging in remote learning.”

The plan board members will discuss tonight calls for the “partial return” of elementary students to in-person learning for a few hours each day. That’s because administrators believe “younger students will learn better physically in the classroom.” Families would still have the option to keep medically vulnerable students at home, learning remotely, if needed; Wednesdays would be an off-day each week no matter what so that deep-cleaning can be done inside the buildings.

Middle and high school students would continue learning remotely.

Surveys sent to families and staff reflect varying opinions on whether any students should be allowed to return at all — both for their safety and the safety of the staff who teach them.

A quarter of staff members surveyed — in total, 485 responded — said they strongly disagreed with any return to in-person learning; 18.4 percent said they “disagreed.” Just more than 11 percent of staffers said they agreed with the plan.

Nearly half of families surveyed — 1,058 — said they preferred to remain remote, with 32.9 percent saying they favored the hybrid plan.

During the meeting, school board members will also publicize the results of surveys sent to students who are currently engaged in online learning; those results will detail, from the student perspective, how that process is going, as well as what areas need improvement.

Also tonight, some parents and staff members plan to do a drive-by show of support for remote learning via honking their car horns. Those who honk will be showing support for remaining remote through at least the second quarter of school. An organizer said the two options the board is discussing will “create upheaval for students and families and double the workload for teachers” due to a state requirement that teachers have at least two hours dedicated to “synchronous” learning for remote and in-person students.

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