District 99 Board approves hybrid learning plan for 2020-2021 school year


Luc Alvarez

Following revisions over the past few weeks, Superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele presents the hybrid plan to the District 99 Board of Education.

At the Aug. 3 District 99 board meeting, the board voted unanimously to begin the school year with the proposed hybrid plan, where students will learn part in-school and part remotely. Because of staff limitations, the school year will begin with one week of hybrid learning and two weeks of fully remote learning. Barring new recommendations from the Illinois Department of Health, District 99 will return to a hybrid schedule on Sept. 8.

Those that wish to remain remote still have time to opt out as the deadline has been pushed to Aug. 7.

Once the hybrid schedule is fully implemented, students with last names A-L will go to school Tuesdays and Thursdays while students with last names M-Z will go to school Wednesdays and Fridays. All students will learn remotely on Mondays.

Students who consent to hybrid learning will receive one hour of in-person class time for each course per week. Superintendent Thiele made clear to the board that this reduced in-class time is the best option for instruction compared to alternative plans.

In the hybrid plan, students are separated by last name to reduce class size for social distancing purposes. (Luc Alvarez)

“The administration believes in-person learning is superior to remote learning. I can’t get in front of you and say fully remote learning is going to be as great as hybrid or as great as in-person learning because I don’t believe that. I think it’s going to be great and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to make sure kids learn, but I can’t tell you it’s as good as going [fully] back to school,” Thiele said.

This plan is not set in stone, however. Thiele acknowledged that with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the changing recommendations from health experts, District 99 may be forced to go fully remote at some point in the school year. Thiele explained to Board Member Dr. Nancy Kupka that the DuPage County Health Department has the authority to recommend the district close.

To many community members, this plan is a step in the right direction. Before the board meeting, approximately 100 District 99 parents and students showed support for hybrid learning in front of the DGS campus. Additionally, speeches were presented by parents and students at the start of the meeting.

Colleen Halloran, the mother of a DGN student, believes the hybrid plan is the best way forward for students’ personal health and their educational and emotional well-being.

“All of us parents want the safest, most equitable plan. The hybrid plan provides the ability for students to opt out or come to school. We want to make sure that students feel safe coming back to school, and that if they want to be here, they should be able to choose to be here,” Halloran said.

This decision is not without controversy. There has been a debate among the District 99 community, resulting in both the aforementioned gathering at DGS as well as death threats to members of administration and their families. In an email to District 99 families, Thiele attempted to bring the community together, highlighting a common goal of providing students with the best possible education.

“None of us signed up for the world we are living in right now. However, the Board of Education members and administrators did sign up to do what we believe is best for District 99 and our students, under any circumstances. We have always done that and we will continue to do so.”

In regards to death threats, Thiele stated, “I respectfully ask that this all stops tonight.”

Some members of the community remain in opposition to the hybrid plan. One such member is incoming DGS senior Dyanna Boone who, while saying she will personally opt out of in-person learning, believes that it is still too big a risk for the community.

“To those in favor of hybrid learning, I beg that they think of the teachers, who may be at risk or have family members at risk, and consider their safety. It’s selfish to force them into a dangerous work environment that puts their health at risk,“ Boone said.

It is clear that students, teachers and administrators alike will face challenges adjusting to learning during a pandemic, but Thiele has full confidence that District 99 will be able to rise to the challenge.

“Our kids are going to roll, they always do… Our kids will do whatever we need them to do. They never disappoint,“ Thiele said.