School district revises tentative fall reopening plan

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The Champaign school district announced Tuesday that it plans to start as many students as possible in the fall with virtual learning.

Many school board members, parents and staff voiced concerns at a meeting Monday night about the district’s ability to safely practice social distancing with in-person learning.

“Based on the guidance of the Board of Education, individuals will all start in the virtual space,” Superintendent Susan Zola said. “Then, we will reach out to families who fall into one of those identified categories [see image below] to see if they’re interested or need the support to come back in person.”

Courtesy of Unit 4 Schools

Zola said the district will start vetting that out with individual campuses.

“We may start with identifying students who receive free or reduced lunch, for example,” she said. “Those are students who we know might or have benefited from our ongoing support with meals and school supplies and summer learning opportunities.”

The district sent the following letter to Unit 4 families and staff on Tuesday:

Dear Unit 4 Families and Staff,

Last night, the Board of Education spent several hours listening to and reading public comments and then discussing Unit 4’s tentative reopening plan for 2020-2021. The Board directed that the tentative plan be revised so a majority of students, PreK through 12th grade, start school with virtual instruction.

In an effort to align with the District’s goal to provide equitable educational opportunities for marginalized students, school staff will be asked to identify and reach out to the families of students who became disconnected from school because of COVID-19’s impact at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. It is important that we reconnect with these students. As the reopening plan is revised, particular attention will be paid to the instructional needs of students with IEPs, 504 plans, Emergent Bilingual students and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. We will continue to address technology and internet issues to allow all students to have access to virtual instruction.

Work on revising the tentative reopening plan will begin immediately. We recognize this is an anxious time for students, families and staff members. We will provide additional updates as the planning process continues. We remain committed to focusing on the social and emotional needs of our students as we simultaneously meet their instructional needs in safe environments for students and staff members.

With gratitude,

Dr. Susan Zola
Champaign Unit 4 Schools

Board president Amy Armstrong also spoke Tuesday morning about the decision, as well as the survey initially sent to parents to help shape the reopening plan.

“Looking at the data, it was encouraging that parents wanted their children back in the educational space,” Armstrong said. “But in reality, it’s the virus that is driving decisions at this point.”

She acknowledged more than half of the parents in the district didn’t respond to the survey, and that they needed to figure out why some did not or were not able to respond.

“If we start out slow and triage from the most high-risk, marginalized, those who were harmed by the loss of educational opportunities in the spring, we can slow-roll out by targeting those that we really feel were missing in the conversation or might not have been prioritized through the survey,” Armstrong said.

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