The past several months have been various iterations of “unprecedented” and “changing times” in stores, businesses, restaurants, and schools across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 13, it was announced that SD308 would continue the rest of the academic school year remotely, with students, teachers, and staff working from home. However, the district was not prepared for the various struggles that came with distance learning. Many students had a difficult time adapting to the new learning environment, while others chose to completely ignore their assigned work. The district managed to finish the school year remotely, but now, with no signs of COVID-19 slowing down in the US and still being a long way from a widely available vaccine, it is time to consider a new plan for the looming 2020-2021 school year.
On July 13 and 21, the Board of Education (BOE) held meetings that addressed the plan for students and staff to return to school for the 2020-2021 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two plans have been introduced and discussed by the board. One is a hybrid plan which combines in-person and remote learning, and a remote learning-for-all plan. The hybrid plan gave students the individual option to accept the hybrid plan or to go fully remote, but the remote learning structure under this plan would not be taught by district teachers, but through Edgenuity, a program commonly used for online courses throughout the district. Not all courses are available to students who choose to go remote under the hybrid plan, unlike the remote for all plan, which is taught by district teachers and all courses running in the building this year would run.
Of the two choices presented to the board and to Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin, 42Fifty supports the remote learning for all plan as it provides the highest and most equitable level of education across the board, while keeping students and teachers safe from risk of a major COVID-19 outbreak.
Hybrid learning is the overwhelming preference of the student body of Oswego High School, as many students yearn to return back to the halls of OHS in some capacity for this school year. They miss their friends, their teachers, and the school community.
“[Remote learning] takes away all of the social aspects of public school and events that would take place,” junior Abby DePaul said.
Some students believed that learning under remote learning circumstances was difficult, and they would much rather be in a classroom environment to promote healthy study habits.
“Remote learning doesn’t really teach us much,” junior Dema Mahmoud said. “Regardless of how much they enforce it, there are still going to be students who won’t do anything.”
Teachers aren’t as fast to want to get back into the classroom. In a recent poll from the Oswego Educators Association (OEA), three out of every four (75%) of all teachers surveyed favored an all remote return to learning to start the year. Many staff members are hesitant to get back into the classroom and risk infection to themselves and to their students. Many don’t realize the amount of risk that teachers would be assuming if the hybrid plan is what is put into place for 308’s return to learning plan.
Under the hybrid plan, a 10 day quarantine is required after a positive test. So what happens if a teacher gets it (and not if, but when)? They need a sub. That sub has to work for two weeks off of lesson plans being sent in from the teacher who is at home with the virus and could quite possibly be in a condition that would prevent them from being able to forward plans which just makes things trickier. And on top of that, the teacher that contracted that virus, whether it be from a student, colleague or otherwise, exposed around 180 students to the virus in their classroom alone, and those students go to their seven other classes then back home, breathing out COVID-19 carrying aerosols along the way. It only takes one to start an outbreak and to force the school into remote learning once again.
Outside of health concerns of teachers, there is no archetype for this sort of approach to teaching. It could require double the work since teachers would have to teach their full six class schedule, on top of having to answer questions and prepare material for the group of students at home having a remote learning day. Much like teachers did in the spring, they would be flying by the seat of their pants and making it up as they go. At least under a remote for all plan, there would be some sort of familiarity and precedence to follow from the spring in addition to the new guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the district. Educators were dealt a rotten hand last term, so where’s the sense in doing it again in addition to putting their health at risk everyday?
The remote for all plan is also the most equitable. Under the hybrid plan, students would have the option to go fully remote if they wish, however the full course catalog isn’t offered remotely in this scenario as the students who choose remote will have to take courses through Edgenuity. The level of education that the students attending the hybrid schedule would be very different from those attending all virtual classes via Edgenuity. The fact of the matter is, every student has the right to the same level of education, and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice that right in the name of self protection from a global pandemic. Remote for all allows those students that would be missing out on AP, honors and many elective classes the opportunity to enroll in them, which is an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have under the hybrid plan.
The hybrid plan at this point in time has too many unanswered questions. For example, is splitting students alphabetically going to lessen congestion around the school? What about hallway traffic? Have new traffic patterns been discussed so that students are able to walk to class with minimal contact with other students? What about class sizes? Does OHS have the staff, materials, and resources to lessen the number of students in each class in order to properly observe social distancing?
Those questions have not been addressed in the documents discussed during BOE meetings. If the district is going to go with the hybrid schedule, 308 would have to address those questions among other concerns from the community.
Other districts of comparable size have recently decided to go fully remote to start the new school year. Joliet School District 86, Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, as well as Elgin Area School District U46. With big districts starting to go fully remote to start the 2020 school year, it’s only time before other districts do the same. It’s time to fall in line with other big districts and do what’s best for the students, teachers and district employees and go remote for all for the start of this school year.
Going fully remote isn’t ideal, and while the student body wants to return to the halls they know and love, it cannot be done safely at this time. It is in everyone’s best interest that the BOE and Dr. Sparlin choose to begin the 2020-2021 school year remotely, and reassess the situation down the road. Hopefully, if conditions improve, students and staff can return to 4250 Route 71, and once again fill the hallowed halls of Oswego High School at some point this school year.