Board Briefs: August 2021 Special Meeting

Board Briefs for the August 2021 Special Meeting

Meeting Summary

The District 58 Board of Education held a Special Meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 at Downers Grove Village Hall and via YouTube livestream. View the agenda for detailed meeting documents and information. The meeting video will be posted on the District 58 YouTube page. The meeting focused on two main topics: District 58’s fall 2021 instructional plan and District 58’s draft e-learning plan. 

Fall 2021 Instructional Plan: District 58 families and staff are encouraged to view the District 58 fall 2021 instructional plan and its related Board presentation. These documents provide a helpful overview of this school year and answer many questions regarding the instructional day, health and safety protocols, and more.

E-learning Plan: Earlier this summer, District 58 drafted an e-learning plan that, if approved, would allow District 58 to use e-learning days in lieu of emergency days (or snow days). During this meeting, the Board held a public hearing, reviewed survey feedback, discussed the plan, and voted 4-2 to approve it. This means that District 58 now has the option to use an “e-learning day” instead of an emergency day/snow day. 

Please read the Board Briefs below for details on the above topics and more.

Fall 2021 Instructional Plan Discussion

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Russell opened this discussion sharing that throughout the pandemic, District 58 has focused on the following priorities:

  1. The health and safety of students and staff
  2. Maximizing in-person instruction
  3. Minimizing disruptions to the educational environment

District 58 will continue to focus on these priorities. Specifically, the District follows COVID-19 health and safety protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the DuPage County Health Department, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, District 58 will follow the Governor’s Executive Action that mandates universal mask usage inside schools. 

Dr. Russell explained that school districts that do not comply with this mandate risk losing their recognition status, state funding and insurance coverage. The Illinois State Board of Education has already placed several Illinois public school districts that refused the mandate on probation and started the process of removing their recognition. This is not a risk District 58 will take.  He urged community members to contact their state representatives if they have concerns.

Dr. Russell asserted that students will not be permitted to attend school without a mask, and asked families to please follow the mask mandate and not place their child in a difficult situation.

Dr. Russell was joined by Mr. Sisul and Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Jessica Stewart to review the specifics of the District 58 fall 2021 instructional plan. Throughout their presentation, both Mr. Sisul and Mrs. Stewart emphasized that all protocols are intended to keep students and staff as safe as possible while providing as normal a school day as possible. Please view the instructional plan presentation for details on the student’s school day, current guidance and mandates, safety protocols, close contact and quarantine procedures, an instruction overview, lunch/snack, recess and masks breaks, and extracurricular activities/athletics. 

The Board reviewed and discussed the plan, asking a variety of questions to the District 58 administration. Addressing Board member questions, Mr. Sisul noted that all students can receive free lunch and/or snack paid with federal funds, regardless of income status. Milk is available at no charge if a student is signed up for a snack. As a provision of federal meal funding, District 58’s middle schools will only provide hot lunch to students who sign up for free meals; paid a la carte meal options are not available at this time. There will be multiple “opt-in” and “opt-out” options for the free meal program. 

Mrs. Stewart addressed questions regarding optional COVID-19 testing. District 58 asked families to complete a survey by this Thursday indicating if they would like their child to participate in an optional COVID-19 testing program. Survey responses will help District 58 gauge the community’s interest in this program. District 58 hopes weekly testing will help identify asymptomatic positive cases, as well as provide convenient access to a test for students who are required to get tested, due to being symptomatic or a close contact. Mrs. Stewart said she does not anticipate the COVID-19 testing program to begin until a few weeks into the school year.

Mrs. Stewart also noted that District 58 is seeking a “test to stay” option that would permit unvaccinated students who are close contacts to voluntarily get COVID-19 tested on a daily basis while still attending school, in lieu of quarantining at home. Per the CDC, school districts can only offer this option in instances where mask wearing has been strictly followed. At this point, the DuPage County Health Department is not permitting school districts to implement a “test to stay” option. District 58 is advocating for this option and will communicate if the health department changes its guidance. Local health departments maintain the ultimate authority on school district quarantine requirements.

E-Learning Plan Public Hearing and Approval

The Board of Education held a public hearing regarding the draft District 58 e-learning plan. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Justin Sisul explained that such a plan could be used on emergency days when school cannot be open in person, such as after a heavy snowfall. It would not be used for situations requiring an extended period of remote learning; in fact, only five emergency days may be used during any given school year. Mr. Sisul shared that District 58 surveyed families and staff to learn whether they felt the District should have an e-learning plan. More than 900 individuals responded to the survey, and more than 75% supported approving the plan.

Two individuals (a teacher/union representative and a community member) provided public comment during the hearing, both in favor of approving an e-learning plan.

Later in the meeting, the Board held a lengthy discussion regarding the benefits and drawbacks of adopting the plan. Board President Darren Hughes and Vice President Gregory Harris both opposed the plan, noting that they believe in-person learning provides students with more instructional time and a more valuable learning environment than e-learning. They also noted that, despite the District’s best efforts, e-learning might not be equitable for all students, as some students may have family members at home with them to oversee their e-learning, while others might not. Dr. Russell and Mr. Sisul said that the District would offer resources -- including free Internet access, free hot spots, and printed materials -- to make e-learning more equitable for students. Member Hughes also said that if the e-learning plan gets approved, he would want the Board to continually evaluate its effectiveness and appropriateness. 

Board members supporting the plan said that it would give the District flexibility and a new option to consider. Member Emily Hanus said that while a traditional snow day could be used after a heavy snowfall, e-learning days might be a better option if a severe cold spell requires schools to close for two or three consecutive days. Member Tracy Weiner also noted that she felt an e-learning day in February would work better than adding an in-person day in mid-June, when schools are hot and students may be more distracted anticipating summer. Member Weiner also inquired if surrounding school districts have e-learning plans; Dr. Russell confirmed that many surrounding districts have adopted an e-learning plan.

The Board voted 4-2 to approve the District 58 E-learning Plan. 

View the e-learning plan presentation

 During the Meeting, the Board Also:

  • Received seven public comments. Five comments opposed a mask mandate, one comment supported a mask mandate, and one comment opposed the Board’s recent decision to sell its Longfellow Center.
  • Approved all items presented in the Consent Agenda, including the appointment of Bryant Cobo to the O’Neill assistant principal position.
  • Approved a three-year contract from Amplified IT for Google Workspace for Education Plus for a total cost of $67,851.

Upcoming Events

  • Monday, Aug. 30 at 3:45 p.m.: District Leadership Team Meeting at O’Neill
  • Friday, Sept. 10 at 7 a.m.: Financial Advisory Committee Meeting at the ASC
  • Monday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.: Regular Board Meeting at the Downers Grove Village Hall

District 58 Board of Education members are: Darren Hughes, president; Gregory Harris, vice president; Kirat Doshi, Melissa Ellis, Emily Hanus, Steven Olczyk and Tracy Weiner, with Dr. Kevin Russell, superintendent; and Melissa Jerves, board secretary.