Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School is moving forward with plans for hybrid learning when the 2020-2021 school year begins next week.
The BBCHS School Board on Monday discussed the possibility of starting the year remotely due to COVID-19 concerns but ultimately decided to proceed with the blended back-to-school plan approved July 13.
Freshman orientation day is Aug. 19, and alternating in-person and remote attendance days for all grade levels will begin Aug. 20 and 21.
Students will be divided into two attendance groups, with A-L last names to attend school on “red” days and M-Z last names attending on “white” days. Remote learning will take place for both groups on opposite days.
School hours will be from 7:25 a.m. to noon, with class periods running 30 minutes.
All students will be offered a fully remote option, and students with special needs may receive full-time in-person instruction.
“I think we are prepared to execute the plan safely and responsibly,” Principal Brian Wright said. “And we have provisions where if things were to happen and it were to go sideways, we are ready to call it like that and go completely 100 percent remote.”
Superintendent Scott Wakeley said that in the event of another mandatory closure, the school would transition to remote learning, but there would be more flexibility this time. For example, teachers could instruct remotely from their classrooms.
“Being remote does not mean everything is shut down like it was in March ... Our teachers are better equipped,” he said. “They’re certainly not experts on teaching remote because that takes time, but they are far beyond what they were.”
The plan also outlines procedures for students and staff who become exposed to or develop symptoms of COVID-19.
Students and staff who display COVID-19 symptoms will be immediately quarantined from the rest of the school and sent home. A student or staff member who tests COVID-19 positive must meet specific criteria proving they are no longer positive to be allowed to return to school.
Additionally, students and staff who were in close contact (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) with an individual who tested positive must self-isolate for 14 days.
Superintendent Scott Wakeley said school leadership across the country have been feeling the pressure to make decisions on how to mitigate risks with coronavirus despite not having a medical background. Some administrators he has spoken with from other states have received death threats regarding their back-to-school decisions.
“I feel like, I have 15 years of college and I’m a school psychologist and I have several degrees in educational leadership; none of them make me qualified to make medical decisions for your family, for my family or anyone else,” he said. “But that is exactly what’s been asked of us, not only in Illinois but in this country.”
Wakeley said that some positive COVID-19 cases are inevitable with the return to school, and realistically, it might take years to be anywhere near 100 percent safe to return.
“If one [case] is too many, the next time we’re going to be in school is probably 2022-23,” he said.
Wakely also emphasized that requiring face masks be worn at all times in school will be critical in reducing risk. Students that do not want to wear them to school would have to do remote learning instead.
“Everybody can say we want to come back,” he said. “If masks aren’t worn, we’re exposed ... If a kid comes in and says I’m not gonna [wear a mask], then they’re not getting in.”
Board President Justin Caldwell added that, just like with influenza or measles, it would not be possible to completely prevent coronavirus cases even when a vaccine is available.
“Coronavirus is here. It’s real,” Caldwell said. “I get that, but the other thing, too, if we get a vaccine, we’re foolish to think we’re not gonna have any cases for the rest of this year, all of next year and for years to come.”
The plan specifies that extracurricular activities will be allowed to resume with adherence to Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines on masks, social distancing and gathering size. Certain sports have resumed as well per Illinois High School Association guidance.
“I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school, I have lots of great memories; not all of them were algebra,” Wakeley said. “Extracurriculars are an important experience.”
Choir and orchestra students will be required to keep masks on, while band students will have specialized masks to use while playing their instruments in addition to utilizing the North Gym for social distancing.
Drivers education may also resume with masks and no more than two students and one instructor per vehicle.