BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 officials discussed plans and precautions for bringing students back into classrooms next school year during a special school board meeting Wednesday.
Interim Superintendent Margaret Longo said the district has been mulling over possibilities for spacing out classrooms, modifying student drop off and pick up procedures, and screening students and staff who feel sick.
The district is also preparing to work with students individually to address achievement gaps, especially those whose attendance lagged during remote learning, and to ramp up cleaning procedures in the buildings, she said.
“This is our goal, unless [the state] tells us otherwise, is to reopen,” Longo said. “Our goal is face-to-face instruction. We know we’re going to have to plan too for remote learning at the same time.”
Longo said Kankakee County appears in good shape to progress to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, when groups of 50 would be allowed to gather. In this phase, she anticipates normal class sizes with desks spaced further apart.
Assistant Superintendent Jim Duggan said the district surveyed teachers, staff and parents, and over 50 percent in each group indicated preference toward a school year that would begin after Labor Day and end June 4.
Delaying the start of the school year until after Labor Day (Sept. 7) would increase the chances that the district could implement in-person instruction, he said.
This calendar would be condensed by eliminating days off for holidays like Columbus Day and Veterans Day and shortening some holiday breaks.
The district is also considering staggered start and end times to the school day in order to socially distance students on bus routes.
Lunchrooms and gyms would probably not be used due to concerns of spreading the virus. Lunches would likely be eaten in classrooms, and teachers would take students outside for physical activity while the weather permits.
Extracurricular activities and sports are on hold for the time being, Longo said.
“We don’t know if we’re going to be able to have sports in the fall,” she said.
Teachers would be tasked with going over new procedures at the beginning of the year, things like how to socially distance in the hallways, clean up personal spaces and not to borrow writing utensils from classmates.
Teachers would also use a device called Swivl that would allow sick students to attend class virtually. It includes a platform for holding a tablet that swivels around to record the teacher as she moves around the classroom. The teacher wears a motion sensor and microphone device.
This could be used to allow teachers to use the resources in their classrooms even if remote learning is mandated, Longo said.
“If the state required us to do remote learning, we’re looking at ways to effectively do that,” she said.
Another way to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus would be to have teachers go from classroom to classroom to instruct students in the upper grades rather than having students switch classrooms, she explained.
The district is waiting for guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education on whether or not students and teachers will be required to wear masks.
If masks are to be required and students do not wear them, the schools would consider it a dress code violation, Longo explained. She added that teachers would have to take extra precautions around students with special needs who may have sensory issues when it comes to wearing masks.
The Kankakee County Health Department is providing a grant for three months worth of face masks, temperature taking equipment, gloves and hand sanitizer, she said.
Board members did not vote on the plans Wednesday. The next scheduled board meeting is June 23. New Superintendent Adam Ehrman is set to assume his position July 1.