DOWNERS GROVE – Students in Community High School District 99 will return to school for two days a week in a modified hybrid schedule of in-person and remote learning starting Oct. 19, the district announced on its website Tuesday.
The district, with a combined enrollment of nearly 5,000 students at Downers Grove North and Downers Grove South high schools, has been in full remote learning since the school year started in August amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Hank Thiele presented the updated plan at Monday's school board meeting. He advised that the district is presenting a plan to bring back students while DuPage County is in moderate or minimal community transmission level of the coronavirus. Thiele said that the county is currently "right in the middle of moderate right now" after trending toward high moderate a week ago.
"As long as we're in moderate or minimal we are striving to build a schedule that allows students to come back in that range," Thiele said. "As soon as we move into a substantial [transmission] level we'll have to have some serious conversations with the health department if it is appropriate to bring students back. Right now we are definitely in the place where bringing kids back to school is something that we should consider doing."
Thiele identified top priorities in the modified hybrid schedule as following safety guidelines, especially the limiting of mixing of groups which is a new priority since the district released its hybrid plan over the summer.
"In order to do that [limiting mixing], you're not going to see as many teachers frequently," Thiele said. "You can't see every teacher every week, but we still want a regular cycle."
Thiele said the district has also efforted to simplify the hybrid schedule.
"That's a major piece of feedback we heard about the old hybrid schedule is that it was too complex, too many moving parts," Thiele said.
Under the modified hybrid schedule, students with last names beginning with the letters A-L will be in school from 7 until 10:55 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Week One, and from 12:25 until 3:20 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Week Two. Students with last names beginning with the letters M-Z will be in school from 7 until 10:55 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays in Week One, and from 12:25 until 3:20 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays Week Two. A third week in the rotation would be remote only.
Under this schedule there will be minimal interaction between cohorts with one passing period per day.
"We want to limit the number of people in a person's environment," Thiele said. "It just limits the opportunities to come into contact with someone who might have COVID."
Those students following a "remote-only" schedule will follow the same schedules as in-person learning schedules. Attendance will be taken for every class period.
"Students are still interacting with that class period in that time, but from home," Thiele said.
According to the remainder of the first semester schedule on the district page, there is planning for freshman in-person the week of Oct. 5 in what Thiele characterized as a "dry run" of the hybrid schedule.
"I can't promise that we're going to make that happen," Thiele said. "We still have a lot of logistics to work through, but that's the goal."
The district plans to rotate between a fully remote, hybrid Week One and hybrid Week Two schedule for the remainder of the semester, with fully remote the weeks of Nov. 2, Nov. 23 and Dec. 14.
"There is some logic as to why this schedule is happening this way," Thiele said. "We are trying for the rest of the semester to balance out minutes. In the fully remote students get the most minutes of content. Once we start getting into hybrid now we're trading off groups. By combining the two, having periods of remote and periods of hybrid we try to bolster the amount of time available for a teacher and student over the course of the semester. We also have time to adjust. After a two-week hybrid rotation we have an adjustment period."
Thiele noted that the weeks of fully remote learning also fall on weeks where the schedule is "abnormal." For example, the week of Oct. 12 students have that Monday off, Wednesday is SAT testing for seniors and Friday is parent/teacher conferences.
"That's a week that's already challenging," Thiele said. "We didn't want to go into full cycle until we have a chance to go into back-to-back weeks."
All students participating in in-person learning will be required to follow all safety procedures, including wearing a mask for face covering at all times, wearing a face shield on the bus, during passing periods or when social distancing cannot be maintained, completing the self-certification slip before attending school or participating in symptom checks on the bus or at arrival at school and not using lockers or congregating in groups of hallways.
"Other safety measures may be introduced over time," the district announced. "Failure to participate in all safety measures will result in the students transitioning to the fully remote learning model."