BBCHS school return

Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School social sciences teacher Dave Fiscus works at his desk where he will communicate with students via Zoom as teachers prepared their rooms for the start of the school year on Thursday. Fiscus, who must remain seated behind a plexiglass barrier during class, said the hardest part will sitting and not interacting as closely with students. “We’re so used to moving around, getting on their level and building those relationships. It will be challenging,” Fiscus said. “That being said, we can do it. We’ll do the best we can for them.”

BRADLEY — Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School will continue half days of in-person hybrid learning for the time being until administrators work out plans to transition back to full days.

The BBCHS School Board voted 6-1 Monday to hold off resuming full school days in order to give administrators more time to consult with teachers and iron out details.

The switch to full school days, in conjunction with the smaller attendance groups that went into effect Monday, was set to begin Sept. 28.

Board members approved both changes during a special board meeting last week.

Superintendent Scott Wakeley asked board members Monday to press pause on the specific date for resuming full school days because of some logistical issues, such as finding space for socially distanced lunch periods and preparing teachers for another significant schedule change.

He said the goal is to move forward and get more and more kids in school. However, the district still must work within Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education guidelines.

“We recognize and we understand the best place for kids to be is in school,” Wakeley said. “There’s really no question. Even the best remote learning doesn’t replace that relationship between teacher and student in the classroom.”

The school also has its own limitations with size, space and lack of air conditioning in 60 percent of the building, he added. During a typical school year, lunches are spread out over seven periods and students go to mobile classrooms for some classes because of inadequate space.

Another goal is to have a sustainable model that keeps school open for months at a time rather than only days or weeks.

Unless there is an outbreak within the school or the health department recommends a closure, the intent is to stay open, Wakeley said.

“We don’t want to go to remote unless we’re forced to,” he said. “We plan on staying in.”

The board agreed to rescind the two-week deadline and asked administration to return with a plan and proposed timeline regarding school days during its next meeting Oct. 12.

Board member Michael O’Gorman, who proposed resuming full school days during the previous meeting, voted against the delay.

School days currently run from 8 a.m. to noon with 30-minute class periods and grab-and-go lunch provided after school.

BBCHS resumed hybrid learning Monday after going fully remote for two weeks in response to spikes in COVID-19 positivity rates that put Kankakee and Will counties under additional restrictions by the state.

Students are now back in the building and are divided into A, B and C attendance groups instead of “red” and “white” attendance groups, so one third of students are in the building each day instead of one half.

The change was intended to reduce the number of individuals identified through contact tracing when a positive COVID-19 case or symptoms of the virus are found within the school.

In its initial hybrid learning model, the school was averaging 15 to 20 people identified for quarantine for each positive case, Wakeley said.

“We started the year with our best intentions of having 1,000 kids in the building at a time,” Wakeley said. “Contact tracing, as you know, caused almost 100 healthy kids in four days to be quarantined.”

As of Tuesday, 13 students are currently quarantined, and there have been 14 known positive student cases and two known positive staff cases, according to the district’s website.

Principal Brian Wright said current student enrollment is 1,945 students, with the A, B and C attendance groups ranging in size from 454 to 476 students.

There are 139 students with special needs receiving in-person services at school five days per week, and 357 students have chosen fully remote learning, Wright added.

The school also has a designated space where students can complete remote learning in the building.

The space is open to both hybrid and remote learners, but only 45 spots are currently available.

It is targeted for use by students with distractions, limited resources or an otherwise poor work environment at home.

Wright also explained that teachers are utilizing the second half of the school day from about 12:30 to 3:15 p.m. to learn new methods and tools for remote instruction, analyze the effectiveness of remote lessons, upload materials, and provide interventions for students.

“What we do in the afternoon is absolutely essential,” he said.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools.

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