Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park

As Illinois schools look to fully reopen next fall, administrators from Oak Park and River Forest High School presented plans to help students return to the building and inside classrooms for in-person learning.

During the June 10 school board meeting, Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams prefaced the conversation by noting any plans shared that evening were subject to change. Pruitt-Adams said she expects the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to roll out specific guidelines once the state enters into Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, which took place June 11.

“Once we get that information, we will bring it forward,” she said.

Last month, ISBE adopted a resolution requiring schools to resume full in-person learning in the fall with limited options for remote learning. Passed on a unanimous vote, the resolution also supported an upcoming declaration made by State Superintendent Carmen Ayala.

According to ISBE, students can only qualify for remote learning if they are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and are under quarantine by a local public health department. Students must meet both criteria to receive online instruction, Pruitt-Adams said.

At this point, Huskie Kickoff Day for incoming high school freshmen is set for Aug. 13, while the first day of the 2021-22 school year is Aug. 16.

Laurie Fiorenza, incoming student learning assistant superintendent, and Shalema Francois-Blue, executive director of special ed, also joined the discussion. The two walked board members through a set of wrap-around services to help students, especially those who are struggling, with their schoolwork.

The goal is to address the students’ learning loss by expanding OPRF’s after-school programs, Fiorenza said. Next year, students may have the option to swap out study hall for one-on-one tutoring. The district also looks to partner with a local community center and host tutoring sessions on the weekends, Fiorenza said.

Francois-Blue shared further that students with special needs will receive additional resources geared toward job training, college readiness and life after high school. The district also hopes to teach staff and students more about wellness, said Lynda Parker, incoming assistant superintendent and principal. Parker suggested plans to host a wellness clinic at least twice a year and to send home newsletters to district families, sparking conversations on self-care, mindfulness and gratitude.

Officials said they anticipate receiving up to $1.4 million in federal money through the American Rescue Plan Act to help support the district’s initiatives. At least $280,000 of that $1.4 million must be spent on efforts to combat learning loss. The act – which was passed in March – provided supplemental funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, otherwise known as ESSER III. 

Some of the funds will also be used toward capital improvement projects and to help D200 continue maintaining its safety mitigations, including making sure common spaces such as classrooms are properly sanitized and disinfected.

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