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Wheaton-Warrenville District 200 middle, high schoolers to return to in-person learning in October

WHEATON – Middle school and high school students in Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 will return to school in mid-October for two days a week in a hybrid schedule of in-person and remote learning.

The school board unanimously supported Superintendent Jeff Schuler's recommendation at Wednesday's board meeting.

The district's four middle schools and two high schools have been in fully remote learning since the start of the school year, a pivot made after the Illinois Department of Public Health in mid-August released more restrictive guidelines for students and staff with COVID-19 like symptoms and additional redefined close contact protocols.

Elementary school students resumed in-person learning on Sept. 1, with 73 percent of the total student population opting for in-person. District 200 is one of a number of area districts making the gradual return to school, including those representing Naperville, Elmhurst and Downers Grove.

"I think we're in a place that we can make this transition and we feel good about making this transition," Schuler said. "We understand that there continues to be work to do to support our staff as they prepare for this transition."

In a Sept. 14-18 update of elementary school data, six positive cases of students with COVID-19 were identified, with 14 students quarantined due to close contact or international travel among the 3,760 elementary school students participating in in-person learning. Two staff were isolating due to positive cases, and three staff were in quarantine due to close contact or international travel.

Noteworthy, Schuler said, no quarantine has been needed as a result of close contact in school, and no district schools have had to shut down as a result of a positive case. Schuler said that the district monitors daily COVID-19 data in the region and zip code areas specific to the district. DuPage County is currently at a moderate community transmission level.

"The protocols in place for physical distancing and to avoid close contacts have worked," Schuler said.

Under the district's plan, sixth graders at Franklin, Monroe, Edison and Hubble will return to school Oct. 13 to 16 for a full day of school in a hybrid model. Starting Oct. 19, grades seven and eight will return in the hybrid model.

"We all felt it made sense with sixth grade first," Assistant Superintendent Melissa Murphy said. "It allows them the opportunity to become familiar with their new building and new routines, procedures and protocols."

Students will be divided into two groups alphabetically, with Franklin and Monroe students with the last names A-L and Edison and Hubble students with the last names A-K in school Monday and Thursday, and students with the last names M-Z at Franklin and Monroe and L-Z at Edison and Hubble in school Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday will be synchronous remote learning for all students.

For students in the district's Virtual Academy and remote learning, there will be 30 synchronous and 15 asynchronous minutes per class period. Starting Oct. 13, the schools' regular bell schedule will resume, and band and orchestra will be live streaming so that the students in the Virtual Academy can still have access.

At Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South high schools, juniors and seniors will have the first opportunity to come back to school since March on Oct. 14 for PSAT and SAT testing, with freshmen and sophomores in asynchronous learning.

Freshmen will return to school for the full day hybrid model on Oct. 15 and 16, with all students returning Oct. 19 under the hybrid model.

"That may seem like a far off date for a lot of people, but we have some technology purchases, and we want to give teachers the proper training they need to be successful," said Assistant Superintendent Charlie Kyle, noting that five teachers in one school and six in another will be teaching remotely for medical reasons, and permanent substitutes will be needed in their place.

Under the hybrid plan at the high school level, group A alphabetically will be at school Monday and Thursday, with group B Tuesday and Friday. All students in remote learning will simultaneously be learning with in-person students using Google Meet and Zoom, including students who choose not to return to in-person. Wednesdays will be asynchronous remote learning with office hours for students, a change from the summer plan to cut down on screen time.

A survey is being sent to high school families Sept. 24, allowing them to change their decision for in-person or remote learning made earlier this summer if they choose to do so. Families have until Sept. 28 to complete the survey.

"We do need a quick turnaround," Kyle said. "The assistant principals need time to balance schedules between cohorts. We can't get the cohort match yet until we survey parent population."

Health and safety protocols already in place from the district's original reopening plans include students self-certifying every morning and conducting symptom screening; physical distancing in classrooms with marked spaces in hallways, rooms and stairways; district-provided face coverings for students and staff; reduced class sizes; and hand sanitizers, wipes and disinfectants in all classrooms.

Schuler said that district officials continue to monitor weekly metrics put out by the county health department.

"I'm confident in where we are, but we need to maintain that moving forward," Schuler said. "We would not have proposed this timeline if we didn't think it was doable."

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