SYCAMORE – Sycamore District 427 students will return to classrooms twice per week beginning Nov. 4, thanks to a vote taken Tuesday night by the Sycamore school board.
The plan will bring back all grade levels, which are currently doing remote-only learning, to in-person learning beginning Wednesday, Nov. 4, and will be an alternating hybrid schedule.
The approved plan (by a six to one vote, with board member Julenne Davey the only 'no' vote) will see classes split into two, with half the students doing two days per week at home on their Chromebooks while the other half is in the classroom, and then switching halfway through the week.
Superintendent Steve Wilder said in conversation with other superintendents in districts who've had students return to the classroom, preparedness is key.
"School districts need realize that you will have COVID cases, not a matter of if but when," Wilder said. "Following protocols to minimize the spread, disinfecting, cleaning, doing things to keep the spread down. Every superintendent I've talked to has said if you go back, just make sure you're ready for that because it's going to happen."
Students learning in person will be using Chromebooks during the day but not all day, every day, Wilder stressed.
"We will still take advantage of technology but we're still not in a position where the classes are going to be livestreamed all day long," Wilder said. "One of the opportunities students in person will have is the opportunity to interact with each other and the teacher, of course that's going to look different because of the circumstances and social distancing."
He said parents should remember that teacher time outside of class will be "at a premium" due to extra accomodations they'll be making for the hybrid plan.
A fully remote option remains available for those families not wanting to return.
The hybrid decision will cost the district an estimated $300,000, Wilder said: $70,000 for technology hardware including web cameras, stands and monitors for televisions to be able to see students at home; and $50,000 for technology support.
Included in that $300,000 is a plan to hire four additional full-time health professionals for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year: $120,000 for three health assistants and $60,000 for one nurse.
Wilder noted if and when Region 1 is able to move forward into Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, the health professionals will not be required in schools.
Davey asked whether the district had considered waiting until January to return students to classrooms.
"Has that even been discussed, since I'm looking at the educational soundness of chopping, we get them in, we take them out," she said. "Is that educationally sound? I'm really concerned about this, not only the safety part."
Wilder said educational continuity is hard to predict in a fluid COVID-19 pandemic.
"I have my personal opinions about what I think would happen if we return Nov. 4.," Wilder said. "I think the benefit of the parallel plan is getting students in school for the socialization, the connection with teachers in person. And I think we need to continue to encourage our students, staff and community to continue to follow protocol...to minimize spread in our community."