DeKALB – Interim superintendent Ray Lechner laid out the next steps of the district's return to school plan at the DeKalb District 428 school board meeting Tuesday, eyeing a Nov. 30 return date for third through fifth graders and even more special needs students.
Lechner also said that the 89 students from the Specialized Opportunities for Academic and Life Skills Education (SOAL), developmental communications and 18-21 transition team returned last week, representing 58% of eligible to return students, while the other 42% opted to remain in remote learning.
During discussion on returning children to classrooms, board member Jeromy Olson said he really didn't think a hybrid half-day plan with remote learning in the morning and in-person in the afternoon on alternating days was the best plan. He revealed he tested positive for COVID-19.
"It's time we get back and get going," Olson said. "We're so sensitive right now to the people who aren't the children, we are here to represent. I myself had COVID, I know how much it sucks, we need to come up with a better plan. In fact I would vote against it. I would say stay home and do home learning if we're not going to come back for a full day."
According to DeKalb's new COVID-19 dashboard on the website, as of Oct. 15 one student tested positive for COVID-19, and two staff members, confirmed Lechner Tuesday, and one staff member was quarantined.
Kindergarten through second-grade students are scheduled to return Monday for in-person learning. Through parent surveys, Lechner said 49% of pre-kindergarten students and 42% have expressed interest in returning to school.
The current plan for K-2 students would go for third through fifth graders. Students who opt-in to in-person learning will be split into two groups, with all students attending live remote learning classes via Google Classroom from 9 a.m. until noon as they are now. One group will go to in-person learning in the afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays and another will go Thursdays and Fridays.
Olson said he wondered if low return rates for families opting to have their kids in-person is because they think the in-person model is too difficult on parents' schedules.
"I wonder if we're getting a low number of people not doing it just because of COVID but because of schedules and the difficulties and challenges," Olson said.
Kim Lyle, director of curriculum of instruction, said many options were looked at and staying remote in the morning made the most sense, but added she thought the numbers may be low because of the afternoon schedule.
"What we decided on with the teachers was with online learning the kids got the routine down, they know what they're doing and we didn't want to lose that momentum," Lyle said. "Since our percents are in the 4-6 range right now we didn't know if we'd get reverted back to remote learning and that would have disrupted everything."
Lyle also said the principals felt the numbers will increase once families see the plan works.
Lechner and Lyle said the district will look into why the numbers are low with more parent surveys.
Board member Samantha McDavid disagreed with Olson's opinion that a return-to-classroom full day model is best.
While Olson's children graduated already, McDavid said she has a first-grade and second-grade student. She called it a step in the right direction that was safe and conscientious.
"I very much disagree," McDavid said. "I think the disruption of every other day would be potentially more disruptive to work out child care, to work out transportation when I already have those things in place right now."
Lechner said by the Nov. 30 date a majority of special needs students from across all grade levels will be eligible to return to in-person schooling. He said high need students started last week and moderate-need students will return on that Nov. 30 date.
The board also approved using remote learning instead of snow days.