I, like many others in our community, was disappointed when I read through the communications regarding the back-to-school plan for OPRF High School. That being said, to suggest anyone knows exactly how this virus will evolve and impact our community would be shallow and divisive. Our school community will need to follow the science and remain flexible; I am hopeful we all can agree on that.
Even though we don’t have all the information to make the perfect decision on a back-to-school plan, below are a few examples in which the plan appears to have fallen short of our own Those-Things-That-Are-Best expectations:
1) Suggesting that 51% of the instructional time, compared to past years, is even close to acceptable for Oak Park and River Forest students. The proposed fall all-remote learning plan provides for 120 minutes of instruction time per class per week, whereas in a normal year, our students receive 235 minutes of instruction.
2) Suggesting it was not “feasible” to have even one day a week of safe in-school learning. As of this writing, even the much more complex CPS system is at least planning for a hybrid approach for their freshmen and sophomores. Such a plan is at least in place. We are going to need this option in our toolkit for the future, so let’s begin to get to work on such a plan now.
3) Highlighting to our community that it would take 60 minutes to get 300 students into the building. Please tell our students we care enough about them, that we can solve this if we really wanted to. What about three or four screeners each, placed at four or five entrances?
4) Not even mentioning or linking local COVID-19 case trends to an in-school or out-of-school plan. Oak Park has its own Health Department; let’s engage them on a creative, science-based approach as cases ebb and flow instead of checking a box for compliance.
If all the above were not disheartening enough, the communication about the thought-exchange exercise was divisive and even more disappointing than an imperfect plan. The thought-exchange exercise somehow married the idea of safety to an exclusively all e-learning option. It went so far as to put our thoughts into two camps: you were either a “Side A” (the term used in the OPRF published document) person who focused on safety/all e-learning or a “Side B” person who thought COVID-19 was not a risk/implement as much in-school instruction as possible.
Thus, according to our own school’s interpretation of the data, one of the more important messages to get out there was to remind us that we have picked sides. A more valuable message would have been to explain how we are planning to creatively attack this complex problem using outdoor classes, public spaces like our libraries, gyms, field house or our west fields, or any other creative and bold idea.
Instead, it felt like our school took the opportunity to bucket us into Side A people or Side B people. I am actually somewhere in the middle; call me a “Side C” person, I guess. We need to respect all opinions as diversity of thought is a good thing for public policy. I am hopeful our school stops trying to bucket us into “sides” and begins to bring us together through earnest collaboration and not convenient buzzwords.
Even with the less-than-creative proposed plan and the divisive use of the community outreach, let’s agree to give our school leadership the benefit of the doubt. The school stated the fall e-learning experience is not going to be the e-learning experience of the spring. The school seems confident they will deliver a solid, version 2.0 e-learning experience for our kids. I am cautiously hopeful. However, what if there is a confusing rollout, kids and families have a hard time getting engaged, there are technology glitches, our kids get discouraged as happened in the spring, disenfranchised students become more disenfranchised and students feel more isolated as they understand no hybrid option is even at the ready to switch to. Then what should we do? We will need to hold our school leadership accountable.
We all need to thank our teachers, administration, coaches, staff and board for their time and service. But in these rough times, we should stop acting like victims and demand more from, and for, our community. The solution put forth might have been expedient, but it is not bold or creative and is not student growth or potential focused in the slightest bit. Maybe some of us are just a B-Side people who don’t care about the safety and well-being of our school community? Give me a break! (Personally, I did like B-Sides growing up, listening to music; U2 has several good B sides.
P.S. If the school actually wants to know what our community prefers — 1) all e-learning, 2) hybrid, 3) all in-school, 4) the ability and flexibility to move between options based on the data — just ask us and save the thought-exchange exercise for when it may be more useful.
Ross Lissuzzo is a River Forest resident.