Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School officials say remote learning will likely be the dominant method of instruction next school year due to the impossibilities of social distancing a student population of over 2,000.
District 307 School Board members reviewed possible calendar plans and discussed concerns about the uncertainty of state requirements for next school year during a Monday meeting.
Superintendent Scott Wakeley said the district is considering a calendar in which school would begin after Labor Day, but whether or not that would allow greater chances for in-person instruction is uncertain.
“The reality, as it sits right now, we would be remote learning,” he said.
If instruction has to remain primarily remote, the district would resume its normal calendar of starting Aug. 17.
The Illinois State Board of Education has allowed for in-person summer school with social distancing and classrooms up to 10 people. With those restrictions in place, BBCHS could only offer online summer school.
“That’s really not ‘open’ for a school with 2,000 kids,” Wakeley said.
He said members of the Illinois High School District Organization agree that districts with upwards of 1,000 students won’t be able to return to school in Phase 4 when gatherings of 50 are allowed.
While there would be some opportunities for students with IEPs to come to school, the fact that students would not be able to switch classrooms would be a problem.
Elementary schools might be able to pull that off, but high school is a different story, Wakeley said.
“When you say you could only have 10 kids on a bus or one kid on every other seat, that’s a gamebreaker,” he said. “When you can’t use your cafeterias, for us, we can’t do that. We can’t isolate our kids in sections of our building with no air conditioning, without letting them move.”
Principal Brian Wright said he is working with teachers on a new grading model for the beginning of the school year, as well as the potential for blended courses. For example, some courses might be online but include an in-person lab component at school.
“We still have more work to do,” Wright said.
Wakeley said that when students found out grades would not be punitive for the rest of the school year, many simply checked out of their studies.
He said he’s concerned for students who struggled before remote learning and now are facing even more difficulties, particularly elementary-age students who won’t have received all the interventions they need by the time they reach high school.
“The achievement gap is going to be an absolute ocean,” Wakeley said.
Board member Mike O’Gorman suggested the board collectively voice its opinion on the situation by sending a letter to local elected officials or passing a resolution.
“We’re effectively 60 days out, and [state officials] still seem to be acting as if we’re in April 15 in terms of timeline,” O’Gorman said. “In fairness, I understand that’s very challenging on their side, but one of the things they certainly have done is a lot of stop-start, left turn, about-face type of stuff, and we’re running out of time to either implement [a plan for next school year] or get people convinced as to what the game plan is going forward.”
While the board might not have control over the situation from a political standpoint, waiting around for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s directives won’t accomplish anything either, he said.
“At some point we have to stop pretending the governor is all-powerful in terms of determining this,” O’Gorman said. “At least we could have our voice raised.”
O’Gorman added that, in his opinion, it is “virtually impossible” to be seriously successful with remote learning.
Board President Justin Caldwell agreed that the board should reach out to local elected officials as well as the state superintendent to push for more directness.
“They’re not talking about any of that,” Caldwell said. “We have kids that this is their livelihood, this is their school time, their K-12, and you’ve got people in state government not talking about it.”