Oak Park and River Forest High School students will likely start the upcoming 2020-21 school year at home. During a special meeting held July 9, District 200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams laid out a reopening plan that calls for more remote learning next school year, but the experience will be much different than the remote learning of the last several months, she said.

“We had to confront some sobering limitations,” Pruitt-Adams said at Thursday night’s meeting.

The superintendent said that any in-person learning would be restricted by daily temperature and symptom screenings conducted by personnel, face coverings would be mandatory and building capacity would be capped at 20 to 30 percent of students on campus at one time. Pruitt-Adams added that opening for in-person instruction would also mean an additional $1.8 million in unanticipated expenses for the district.

“As we confronted the constraints,” she said, “it became painfully clear that bringing students and staff back safely simply isn’t feasible.”

The superintendent’s recommendation reflected the work of the Reimagine Education OPRF 2020-21 Steering Committee, an entity that was created after the pandemic forced schools across the state to close in March.

The steering committee mostly includes administrators. Sheila Hardin, an OPRF math teacher and president of the Faculty Senate, also sits on the committee.

Pruitt-Adams explained in a board memo that the committee “conducted two surveys of students, faculty, and families to get specific feedback on their remote learning experiences.” The surveys received around 2,400 responses, she said. In addition, OPRF’s Special Education department organized focus groups of 15 parents and staff designed to discuss their experiences with remote learning.

Back in June, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that all regions of the state would enter Phase 4 of his reopening plan, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education released joint guidance allowing for local school districts to decide whether to resume in-person learning, remote instruction or a blend of both.

Pruitt-Adams, along with other members of the steering committee, said that their research and analysis showed that a blended model would have meant significantly less instructional time for students and less instructional flexibility for teachers.

With the remote learning model, Pruitt-Adams said, students would have four periods a day, with each class meeting online on either Google Meets or Zoom for at least 30 minutes and no more than 100 minutes.

“We want to be back in the building with our kids,” said Associate Superintendent Greg Johnson at Thursday’s meeting. “It is absolutely our number one priority. We want to do it. We have to find a way to do it safely. We simply do not know how to find a way that is going to work for all of our students’ needs while maintaining the safety of our faculty, staff and students.”

“I worry that not just in our community, but across the country, we’re struggling with in-person as a phrase, as if it will be what we remember from August and September last year, said Hardin. “And it simply will not.”

Hardin said that “full remote learning” will give students the most time learning and will give “me, as a teacher, the most face-to-face experience with my students while keeping them safe and the staff safe.”

Pruitt-Adams said the steering committee will work to “shore up the plan” before bringing it back to the board, which will vote on a resolution that charges administrators to implement a reopening plan and to make changes to the plan, if needed.

Technically, ISBE had given superintendents across the state the latitude to make decisions on reopening without board approval, but Pruitt-Adams said that she wanted to board support nonetheless.

The district is also planning a virtual town hall to allow community members the opportunity to discuss the reopening arrangements before the school year starts.

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