School is set to resume — but the 2020-2021 year won’t look like any other before it

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A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a cart as Des Moines Public Schools custodian Tracy Harris cleans a chair in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

EAST CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The coronavirus pandemic is changing school as we know it — at least for the 2020-2021 school year. While some area school districts have opted to move school entirely online, others are given families a choice to attend in-person. But even if students do head to their buildings, things won’t look the same.

Some schools are modifying bus routes — most in the are, at a minimum, assigning seats and requiring temperature checks before boarding.

Some high schools aren’t allowing locker usage; other schools are giving out bagged lunches only.

It’s all an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Earlier this year, Gov. JB Pritzker gave all Illinois districts the go-ahead to return to in-person learning if school officials wanted to do so. Districts were given a fair amount of leeway by the administration and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine how best to proceed in the coming school year, as long as social distancing was emphasized and masks were mandatory while in-building.

You can read highlights from area district’s reopening plans below.

Champaign School District: Unit 4 officials modified an original plan to allow some students to have the option of returning to school and moved all students to remote learning for the first quarter. By the end of September, according the district’s website, officials will decide how to proceed in the following quarter.

Urbana School District: After initially planning for blended learning, the Urbana school board is set to vote tomorrow night to make the earliest date for in-person learning to return September 8. In the meantime, all students will begin remote learning on August 24.

Heritage School District: The use of masks indoors means choral classes, too, will have students wearing masks, the district noted after saying outdoor band practices would continue as-normal, except with social distancing. The district also purchased four additional disinfectant misters for enhanced cleaning, officials said.

Mahomet-Seymour School District: Bagged or plated lunches will be the norm within the M-S district, like many others are opting to do. According to the district plan, “buffet and bar” food is on the outs in order to keep areas sanitary.

Rantoul City Schools: Busses will make more than one run of each route in order to ensure students can socially distance while being seated. One thing that could happen if students continually refuse to comply with mask-wearing at school: Moving to remote-learning only. Otherwise, families have the choice between all-remote and a blended option.

Rantoul Township High School: Lockers won’t be in-use for high school students, but backpacks have been given the OK. One thing officials are encouraging their students to do this year: Bring as few items from home as possible. Bus boarding will also look different for high schoolers as they’ll be assigned seats starting in the back and will be dismissed airplane style once at the building.

Oakwood School District: Families who register for school later than August 12 will automatically be enrolled for remote learning. And, if more than half of the district’s students choose in-person learning, officials will divide the groups into A and B attendance model. Families have until August 17 to opt-in to remote learning. You can read all of the guidelines in the PDF below.

St. Joseph School District: Students with certain medical conditions may work out an option with staff to determine whether it would be best for remote or in-person learning. Otherwise, the district plans to distribute limited amounts of personal protective equipment (cloth masks) to students and staff and plan for mostly in-person learning. The district has a comprehensive document detailing plans for COVID-19 mitigation efforts here.

Tolono School District: Most students will be in-school five days a week, although those days will be shortened, according to the district’s new plan. Families who want a remote option for the Fall semester will be required to inform school officials once they go to register for the new year. The district is requiring students who want to participate in extracurricular activities to attend in-person learning. The adjusted, shorter days are:

  • Unity East & Unity West Elementary hours will be from 8:15 – 1:30pm. Lunch will be provided onsite. Students not attending in-person instruction will be provided guided remote learning.
  • Unity Jr. High/High School hours will be from 8:20-12:30. Grab and go lunch will be provided guided remote learning from 1:00-3:00.

Monticello School District: For those who don’t opt-in to remote learning, something students might notice missing from the classroom is upholstered furniture — if it was designed to be shared by students, it won’t be in the classroom, according to the district’s reopening plan below. Playgrounds will also be off-limits at elementary schools and playground balls can’t be shared between students.

Springfield School District 186: You might have seen this district gain traction earlier this week due to its stance on at-home dress codes during remote learning.

Like others, the Springfield district’s plan allows for “family choice between a blended in-person/online programs and a fully remote online option for the first semester of school.” District officials reassured parents that the “fully remote learning option will be taught by a District 186 teacher that is highly qualified to teach the grade level or class.”

“Our plan firmly believes that students with a classroom teacher whether in person or remote provides the best learning experience for students,” officials wrote in the plan. “We realize that at any point in time we could immediately return to a fully remote plan due to the increase in positive cases in our region of the State as determined by the Governor’s Office, ISBE, Illinois Department of Public Health and Sangamon County Department of Public Health.”

Decatur Public Schools: All students within the DPS 61 district (PreK-12) “will do 100 percent virtual learning for the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year,” according to the district’s Return to Learn plan, viewable here. For students with Individualized Education Plans, English learners and students who specifically request it, in-person appointments will be available with teachers. Officials pushed the start date back to Monday, August 17.

Danville School District: After some modification, the Danville School Board approved a reopening plan that allows K-4 classes in-person for half a day, every day. From WCIA’s previous coverage:

  • Students in Group A would attend classes from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., with an hour for cleaning before Group B would be allowed to attend from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.
  • Grades 3-4 at Liberty and Meade Park would have to be moved to South View School.
  • Grades 5-12 will all be remote in order to accommodate these plans. Pre-K will be suspended outside of special education.
  • Special education will be offered in-person for all grade levels.
  • Parents in every grade level will also have the option of remote.

Hoopeston Area School District: Elementary students will be in-class five days a week, although dismissal will be earlier than usual (1:05 p.m.). Similarly, high school students will be in-school for four days each week, dismissing at 12:20 p.m. each day with the exception of Wednesday, which will be used for remote learning. What’s part of the reason for early dismissals? Less time for students to have to wear face coverings in buildings that don’t have air conditioning. Read more about district’s plan and supporting rationale here.

Salt Fork School District: Anyone interested in opting into remote learning will be able to do so, with elementary teachers using recorded videos or Google Meet to deliver instruction and high school teachers prerecording their instructional videos before uploading them to Google Classroom. Those who say they want that option will have to commit for the entire semester. You can read more from a post made by superintendent Phil Cox below.

Westville School District: A major focus at the first part of the Westville school year will be “training for students, parents, and teachers to understand how to:  use district technology, monitor student work assigned electronically, and utilize technology safeguards with students.” 

“This training will be provided to students who choose to learn in-person and those who choose remote learning from the start of the year,” the district’s reopening plan says.  “This will be a primary focus at the start of the school year so students, parents, and teachers are better prepared in the event the district has to shift back to complete remote learning.”

Families have the option to choose in-person or remote learning.

Tuscola School District: In-person learning will be the default for families, although remote learning can be arranged for students who need that option. Like at other schools, those who opt for remote learning must stick to that form of delivery for the entire quarter. Students at the elementary, middle and high schools will all be required to move one-way down hallways while social distancing and wearing face coverings. The district’s plan can be read here.

Arcola School District: A blended option of four hours in-school with a 12:10 p.m. dismissal time and the rest of the day dedicated to remote learning at home is available for families who don’t elect the remote learning option available to them. Those families that have opted to pursue remote learning will still be able to pick up lunches from the district, though, which you can read about — along with the full guidelines — here.

Villa Grove School District: Families have two options in Villa Grove schools: all remote learning or a blended option that rotates in-classroom days with virtual learning days. Dismissal will be at 1:55 p.m. for elementary students and 2:06 p.m. for junior high and high school students to allow “for a through cleaning of the school to be ready for the following day and also allow students a shorter day as we navigate mask-wearing for all students and staff.” Find more about the plan here.

Arthur School District: Add Arthur schools to the list of those offering families the option of remote learning all semester or a blended option that includes early dismissal for deep cleaning purposes. One additional thing this district is doing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19: Installing more “bottle fillers…to decrease the amount of surface contamination for students that are needing to get water.”

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibely Schools: All students in grades 6-12 within the GCMS district will be issued a Chromebook for remote learning days slated to take place every Wednesday. Students in grades 4 and 5 will be assigned Chromebooks, but those will largely stay in-building. GCMS officials are asking parents to send students with 3-5 clean masks per day, but the district can issue disposable masks to students if need be.

Paxton-Buckley-Loda Schools: PBL administrators will provide families interested in remote learning more information after registration, according to the district’s website. Some other changes students and staff will observe during in-person learning, if that option is chosen: Disabled water fountains (with bottle-filling option available only) and the increased changing of air conditioner filters throughout district buildings.

Charleston School District: Officials recently opted to make the first quarter of school all remote learning. The move comes after Coles County was recently designated by IDPH as at an “Orange”-level warning for risk of COVID-19 spread. School administrators said on the district’s website that they would reevaluate the situation at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Mattoon School District: Mattoon also changed course, reverting to remote learning only until at least October 19. Previously, the district had planned to offer three options, but like Charleston, reevaluated as the number of coronavirus cases in Coles County continued to rise.

Want information on a district plan not listed here? Email us at news@wcia.com.

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