Dear District 58 Families and Staff,
I am writing to inform you of a very difficult decision that the Board of Education made last night: to postpone onsite instruction and hold learning remotely for all District 58 students for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The decision came after hours of discussion and review of updated state guidance that puts much more stringent restrictions on how schools in Illinois can safely re-open. Additionally, the updated guidance leaves school districts with conflicting information and many more questions than answers. School districts need clear answers from the Illinois Department of Public Health prior to opening. Click here for the administration’s presentation that was shared last evening. You may also view the entire meeting on the District 58 YouTube Channel.
Please know that this letter is not one I wanted to write. This recommendation to the Board is the toughest that we have ever made as an administrative team. We have been steady advocates for in-person learning because it is the strongest format to build and foster the child-teacher relationship and the classroom community. Our administrative team and groups of staff have been working non-stop throughout the summer preparing our staff and curriculum and ensuring our schools are safe for re-opening. But the last minute direction from the state created many obstacles to reopening schools on Sept. 1 (click here for the IDPH FAQ). District 58 is not alone having to make this difficult decision. Many other suburban school districts have been forced into starting school remotely, including but not limited to District 99, Woodridge 68, Glen Ellyn 41, Glen Ellyn 89, Darien 61, Cass 63, Hinsdale 86, Lemont 113A, Lemont 210, Lisle 202, Naperville 203, Indian Prairie 204, Glenbard 87, and Lombard 44.
Here are the newest state directions and their challenges:
- A “close contact” has been more narrowly redefined and would require teachers and schools to document who a student sits next to, who they may pass in the hall, who they sit near in the bus, who they wait in line near, etc…throughout the day. This new definition creates a significant challenge to be able to identify students and staff who have been in “close contact.”
- There is a new definition of an outbreak of COVID in schools. “Two confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections occurring within 14 calendar days of each other in individuals in the same classroom would meet the case definition for an outbreak.” This could mean frequent long absences by students and staff.
- If a student is sent home sick with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, all of their siblings/household members must be sent home as well. If one household member is being evaluated for COVID-19, the rest of the household must be quarantined until an alternative diagnosis is made or a negative result is received. These requirements will create a large number of student absences and make it very difficult to staff a school, as teachers whose children or household members are sent home from school would be out of the classroom for two full weeks. Additionally, the amount of testing necessary given the return of students and staff would likely be problematic to local health departments.
- New guidelines require that schools would need to procure and fit-test N95 respirator masks for key personnel such as nurses and others who would evaluate students or staff reporting COVID-like symptoms, as well as for custodians. This requirement, which is akin to a medical setting, would require strict protocols that school districts are not yet equipped to handle.
- We would have to close a space for up to 24 hours before cleaning if it had been occupied by a person with one or more COVID-19 symptoms. This means that daily we would have to close nurses’ offices or relocate classrooms, and in some schools we simply don’t have the space.
As a result of this direction, the administration recommended that District 58 starts the school year remotely. Throughout this period, we will study, review and consult with the health department, our legal team, and the DuPage County Regional Office of Education. At the end of September, we will determine if we can start school in-person based on the following criteria.
# of new cases per 100,000
Diagnostic testing availability and turnaround
|Does the DuPage County Health Department (DCHD) say it is safe to open based on their indicators? District 58 cannot and will not make this determination on its own as this must be made by health experts.|
|Staffing||Can we staff under these updated guidelines? Are individuals consistently able to report to work based upon the isolation and/or quarantine requirements?|
|Clear Guidance & Metrics from IDPH that can be interpreted by DCHD||Has the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) provided clear guidance to the DCHD? Can the DCHD recommend a course of action to our District?|
|Implementation of Guidance||Can it be done? Does it disrupt the educational process? Is it too costly?|
Our principals will be reaching out to you in the upcoming days and weeks with more details of the plan. However, below are a few highlights:
- All students will learn remotely with their home schools. The online academy will be postponed. This will ensure that all students stay connected with their peers from their home school and have greater access to specials and support services while the District is in this remote period.
- Classroom teacher assignments will be sent to all families on August 28.
- Kindergarten will remain a half-day program and assignments for AM/PM will be sent out at the end of the day on Friday, August 21.
- Preschool/Kindergarten remote: AM session 8:15 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.; PM session 12:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
- Please be aware that when students return to onsite instruction, we will once again ask families if they would prefer enrolling in the online academy (assuming we are not in Phase 5). When students return onsite, there will likely be a transition period and possible reassignment of students and staff to ensure social distancing measures. This process will be done with a great deal of care so all students can be successful (a reassignment may be necessary because each model of instruction requires different levels of staffing and health requirements). The details of any transition will be dependent on the instructional model and when the transition ultimately takes place.
- The instructional day will be completed between 8:15 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. for Grades 1-8.
- Specific student schedules for remote learning (including synchronous vs. asynchronous times) will be developed during staff planning days.
- The Assistant Superintendent for Special Services will be in touch with the families of students with special needs to clarify the next steps.
While we cannot have all students return at this time, the District feels strongly that students should be given the opportunity to meet their teachers in-person at the beginning of the school year in very small groups. This will help build relationships, provide our students with a much-needed connection to our staff, establish routines, get comfortable with technology, allow for learning opportunities, and fully prepare for remote learning. You will receive information from your principal about these opportunities. During these visits families must self-certify that their student(s) are free of any COVID-19 symptoms, complete a temperature check, wear a mask, and maintain social distancing. We will not be able to provide bus transportation for these visits. Families in need should contact their principal so we can arrange a pick-up by our transportation company, First Student. The District is also working with the Downers Grove Park District to establish child-care opportunities now that schools are closed.
I recognize this news is devastating to many. It is also important to know while we may be in the same boat, we are not experiencing the same storm. For some families, this storm has caused minor inconveniences and has had a limited impact on your health and family. For others, this storm is a hurricane with devastating challenges, including logistical child-care issues and emotional and financial hardships. Regardless of the strength of the storm and its impact on your family, we are here to work with you. In addition, I graciously ask that we unify as a school community behind this difficult decision so all of us can focus on ensuring that every one of our students is successful with remote learning. District 58 remains committed to in-person learning and will do everything possible to achieve this goal later in the school year as soon as clarity can be obtained. We simply do not have the information we need at this time to ensure that school can start in a manner that does not significantly disrupt the educational process.
We continue to work with the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Health, the DuPage County Health Department, the DuPage County Regional Office of Education, other local school districts, District 58 staff, and our administrative team on the processes that will allow us to safely bring students back to our schools for learning. We are committed to communicating with you every step of the way.
Dr. Kevin Russell
Superintendent of Schools