KANKAKEE — Kankakee students will be in classrooms again next school year, but not as often or with as many classmates as they are used to.
Kankakee School District 111 is preparing for students to return to school in a limited fashion that coincides with the phases of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan, Restore Illinois.
“Really, what we did was we started with planning for Phase 4, then we worked our way backwards,” Superintendent Genevra Walters said. “So regardless of what phase we are in, we have a plan.”
The plan for next school year integrates remote learning with a schedule of in-person instruction designed to facilitate small group settings and social distancing.
Walters said the district will continue its fully remote learning model, called Learning Anywhere, Anytime, as long as Illinois remains in Phase 2.
In Phase 3, when gatherings of 10 are allowed, groups of up to eight students and two adults would be able to come to school for tutoring or to address specific needs.
In Phase 4, when gatherings of 50 are allowed, students will be able to come to school in shifts and continue remote learning outside of school. Shifts would be two- or three-hour blocks of instruction or activities, intervention and sports.
School buildings would be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
With permission from health department officials, the district would section off three groups of 50 students and adults in separate areas of each school building.
“We would literally close the doors so that we’ve created three ‘buildings’ within one school building,” Walters said.
Social distancing and wearing face masks will be required, though enforcing those expectations presents another challenge, Walters said.
“That just gives us another thing to try to figure out how to do this,” she said. “How do you hold a teenager accountable for keeping their mask on when they don’t want to keep it on? We’ll have to figure that out.”
Changes will be necessary for transportation as well.
The district is considering moving to a CTA-like schedule where buses would arrive at stops in intervals of 15 or 30 minutes.
Most students would have a blended schedule and go to school for a few hours once or twice a week while engaging in remote learning the rest of the week.
Families would also have the option of a fully remote schedule similar to homeschooling.
“There are some parents that already said they are not sending their students back to school right away,” Walters said. “In the traditional model, the option is homeschooling, but we feel like after going through this we could provide that option.”
Some families would be able to send their children to school based on a traditional schedule, but this option will have limited availability.
“We don’t have the space to have all 5,200 of our students in the building at the same time, and in terms of social distancing on transportation, there’s no way we could do that,” Walters said.
The Illinois State Board of Education has yet to release specific guidelines on how schools should resume in the fall, but the district has submitted its plan to officials.
Planning for next school year cannot wait until the last minute, Walters said.
“My concern is that we are the kind of community that has to really hear and understand something before it’s implemented,” she said. “So I really think that I need all summer to work with the community around what this will look like. I can’t introduce it to them two weeks before school starts.”
When Illinois reaches Phase 5, or fully restored status, the school district will form a new model based on data from previous phases. The idea is to allow flexibility and design a system that aligns with the needs of students, families and the expectations of the workforce today, Walters said.
“Once we get to the point where this is all over, we don’t plan to go back to the traditional educational system design,” she said.