Teachers at Oak Park School District 97 are no longer required to offer a specific remote learning option that allows quarantined students to watch or listen in on their class over Zoom. Known as “window to the classroom,” the option gave students at home a somewhat limited experience, as they were unable to use the chat feature or participate in discussions.

Like most schools in Illinois, D97 officials came up with the “window to the classroom” last fall so students absent from school because of COVID-19 could continue to learn while at home, said communications director Amanda Siegfried. The idea for the “window” came at the start of this school year, as school leaders and workers alike grappled with fully reopening after more than a year of online and hybrid learning. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) went back and forth, changing the guidelines for students’ eligibility for online instruction.

But things have changed since then, Siegfried said.

In recent weeks, the district has worked to revamp some of its COVID mitigation plans and met with its teacher’s union, the Oak Park Teachers Association (OPTA), to discuss a few issues, including the current remote learning options, Siegfried told  Wednesday Journal. From there, district officials and members of OPTA agreed to discontinue the “window to the classroom” model, according to a districtwide email sent to families March 15.

That means, she clarified, teachers can decide how they want to approach remote learning for quarantined students while still complying with state requirements. They could still choose to do the “window” or go a different route. OPTA co-presidents Hannah Boudreau and Lary Grimaldi could not be immediately reached for comment.

“It’s really up to them [the teachers],” Siegfried said, adding school officials are confident in their teachers’ professional expertise and can determine what is best for their students.

Co-interim Superintendents Patricia Wernet and Griff Powell reminded families in the March 15 email that students are eligible to receive remote online instruction. Based on state and local guidance, students who either test positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic and waiting for COVID test results can qualify for remote learning.

District nurses will determine students’ eligibility for remote learning and notify teachers, Wernet and Powell wrote. Teachers are expected to provide all the material for remote instruction or place the packet of materials for pick-up in the school’s main office, they explained.

“The decision is at the teacher’s discretion,” Wernet and Powell wrote in the email.

The two shared with families that fewer and fewer students require remote learning. The numbers have “dropped significantly” since January when cases tipped into triple-digits because of the Omicron variant, they said. According to school data, the district reported 21 new cases of COVID among staff and students, shuffling about approximately 26 into quarantine. 

“We remain committed to meeting the needs of our students and providing as much continuity of learning as possible if students are impacted by COVID-19,” Wernet and Powell assured families.  

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