Students in Oak Park Elementary School District 97 may not be returning to classrooms, after all. At a special meeting on July 22, District 97 Supt. Carol Kelley announced that after releasing a preliminary plan to reopen in the fall based on a hybrid model that would entail students being in class twice a week and learning at home three days a week — the district has decided, instead, to start the fall on a full-remote model.
“While our team has been working through the logistics of our hybrid model over the past week, we have also been monitoring the uptick in COVID-19 cases locally and nationwide,” Kelley said in a statement released July 22. “We have heard serious concerns from our staff and families about returning to in-person learning, and there is speculation that stricter guidelines could be imposed at the state level to control the spread of the virus.”
Kelley said last night that she believes the best approach now is to implement a remote-only option for students starting in the fall and committing to that model “for the first trimester only” while working toward developing a hybrid plan that her administration will implement later in the school year.
“I recognize that this shift may provide relief to some, but I also know that this is unwelcome news for others,” said Kelley. “We share our families’ desire to return to on-site learning as soon as possible, but we also believe we must continue to make decisions that prioritize the health and safety of not only the students and staff in our buildings, but the Oak Park community as a whole.”
Shayna Connelly, the mother of two children in District 97 who will be in sixth and eighth grades in the fall, said she’s encountered some of the pushback to full remote learning in various parent groups on Facebook.
Some parents, she said, think that the fall experience will be equivalent to the remote learning experience that took place in the spring and summer, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered schools closed in late March.
“I’ve been very vocal about the parent response and a lack of understanding about what real online learning is,” said Connelly, a film professor who has herself had to adjust to online teaching since the COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life in America.
Connelly, who said she’s been trained by her institution in online learning and that her daughter went through D97’s full-remote summer program, said unequivocally that the online experience from last semester is not what’s in store for students in the fall.
“I have empathy for the parents, because there are a lot of other issues like childcare that come into play and everyone is on edge and people are worried about their futures, so I have a lot of empathy for people on both sides,” she said. “But it’s been frustrating as a teacher to see people again and again stating that spring was terrible so online learning is the worst. It wasn’t real online learning.”
Connelly said that she was “really impressed” by the district’s summer program.
“My daughter made friends, it was interactive, she learned a lot and it was well-organized,” she said. “I think the thing that parents really want is structure and an ability for students to work in a way that is self-directed. They need that in order to work from home.”
She added that Zoom lectures and phone calls between teachers and students do not make up the totality of remote learning.
Caroline Nikolakakis, a D97 teacher whose two children attend school in the district, told board members earlier this month that she was “terrified of sending my own kids back to school. I am terrified for my students — past and present — returning to school. I am scared for myself and my fellow teachers and staff, and I am scared to say that in the current climate of our village. Most of all I am so very terrified we will ignore the facts and spread COVID-19.”
District administrators are planning a virtual information session on Monday, July 27, 5:30 p.m. Details will soon be posted to the district’s website at: op97.org, they said.