KANKAKEE — Kankakee School District 111 administrators reviewed plans for instruction next school year during a Zoom webinar Tuesday.
Under the current plan, families would be able to choose from three options in the fall: a fully remote schedule, a hybrid schedule blending remote and in-person learning, or a completely in-person schedule.
Administrators are also considering pushing the start of the school year to after Labor Day. Students would still receive technology and families would meet with teachers to go over their chosen instructional format in August.
Superintendent Genevra Walters said the plans are tentative given the fluidity of the pandemic situation and stressed the importance of the school district planning sooner rather than later.
The goal is to have a solid plan in place by Aug. 1, she said.
“What we really want to develop over the next six weeks is a strong plan to support our students, our families and community going into the 2020-21 school year,” she said.
Planning for an upcoming school year typically begins as early as November.
“It is very difficult for us to react in one week to two weeks to recommendations from the state,” Walters said. “We felt like if we had a plan, that would really help to just modify the plan as we had more information.”
The school district submitted its plan to the Illinois State Board of Education in May, she said.
The plan would divide school buildings into sections of no more than 50 adults and students during Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan for the state. A leadership team at each school is devising building-specific plans based on the size and layout of the schools, Walters said.
Building hours would likely be extended, with groups of students attending classes in shifts.
Walters said she anticipates the state will enter Phase 4 by the start of August.
“We don’t have concrete guidelines [from ISBE] yet, but it is better for us with the size of our district and the varying needs of the community to start putting together a plan in advance,” she said.
Another part of the plan is to create an isolation area in each building for students or staff members who feel ill. The district will also encourage families to register for its health clinics at the junior high and high school in case of emergencies.
“Our major concern is that when there is an illness in a building, it spreads very fast, and kids and adults get sick very quickly,” Walters said. “That’s with the normal yearly virus, the flu, chicken pox; that happens so quickly in a building because we’re so close together.”
Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis also weighed in during the webinar and said he applauds the district for being proactive in preventing the spread of the virus.
Bevis said “common sense things” like social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks that people may have gotten lazy about are still important, not just for COVID-19 prevention, but also to prevent influenza and other illnesses.
It will also be important for students and staff to have regular health screenings and not come to school if they are sick, he said.
“We have reviewed this [plan]; it seems to meet the governor’s plan in regards to the phases of where we think we’ll be, and they’re definitely being proactive,” Bevis said. “When we get to the new normal in the future, you’re going to be way ahead of other places.”
Karen Johnston, the district’s transportation director, said the district is working out how to transport all its students to school on time with social distancing. It currently operates 58 buses.
For kindergarten through sixth grades, a potential plan would be to pick students up door to door with a cap of 10 students on a bus.
“The major obstacle that we’re facing is the number of students that we can place on a bus,” Johnston said. “Right now, the CDC says 10. Normally, we have anywhere from 30 to, at the pre-K level, up to 60 to 70 students on a bus.”
Kankakee Federation of Teachers President Beth Anderson said about 300 teachers responded to a survey asking what they would need to have in place to feel safe to return to school.
About 300 responded and indicated they wanted sanitizing procedures for entering and exiting the buildings, mask requirements, thermometers to check temperatures, and isolation rooms for sick individuals. Teachers also indicated they would like procedures in place for staff members who are high risk or who were exposed to the virus.
“We know that there’s a teacher shortage and a sub shortage, so we have to think differently about how we’re going to cover our in-person instruction if students are sick and staff become sick,” Anderson said.
She said teachers have been meeting with administration on a weekly basis to discuss procedures for next school year.
Anderson said teachers are also working on strategies for grading and increasing engagement with remote learning.
She added that teachers are willing to accommodate the individual needs of students and encouraged parents to let teachers know what works best for their family.
“It’s OK to say something isn’t working,” Anderson said. “If you need to change your option or if we’re not communicating in an effective way, just let us know so that we can help.”