District 99 sets timeline for full in-person learning to resume


Annie Le

District 99 plans to return to a full in-person schedule after spring break should metrics allow it.

Tentatively, District 99 intends to open schools up for full in-person learning for the fourth quarter. District 99 currently aims to set March 15 as the date on which families will decide whether to send their students in for full in-person learning.

Superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele elaborated on components that still need to be worked out further in terms of the points of conflict between full in-person learning and the required COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“A huge limiting factor in Illinois is the limit of 50 people in any one space in a school. That is going to play in greatly as we design a full in-person return. If that restriction remains, it gets really hard to do things like lunch [or] to do large courses like band,” Thiele said.

Thiele continued, stating “We’re trying to have conversations with officials to find out if that is going to be changed [or] reduced in any way in light of new CDC guidance.”

Several factors of full in-person learning, like lunch and scheduling, are to be discussed by a task force focused on the planning of students’ full return to school. However, nothing is concrete yet, as explained by Thiele.

“This week and through next week [we’re] forming that task force. Leadership teams are going to put together for that meeting some possible lunch solutions, schedule ideas — just to get a brain working for those on the task force of what are some possibilities, but not the extent of those possibilities,” Thiele said.

Thiele detailed how components of a normal school day, like lunch, will likely be affected.

“We still have six feet of distance required in a common lunchroom. So figuring out for a full day how lunch fits into there is not an insurmountable challenge, but it’s more difficult as more students return for in-person learning. We need to factor into whatever schedule we design [limitations on] that mixing of students and how that looks,” Thiele said.

For in-person learning, in both the hybrid and a fully in-person model, Thiele highlighted the importance of maintaining a block-schedule.

“[The CDC] said do schedules where you can limit the mixing of students, which is why we have the block schedule. [We] look at these different strategies so [we] can keep kids together in pods or cohorts, or just not mixing with as many people as possible,” Thiele said.

As metrics continue to stabilize around the 5-6% transmission rate, some are calling for more in-person activities to resume along with the spring sports that have begun. Along with sports, District 99 parent Carrie Swenson expressed a necessity for fine arts activities to be treated with fairness and consideration in terms of recommencement.

“If basketball and football can be played right now, there’s no reason why these fine arts cannot be getting together and making music. For some of these kids, it is their life,” Swenson said.

In the following weeks, District 99 is to continue along their timeline plan to return to full in-person learning and maintain their efforts to effectively carry out the current hybrid model. Thiele explained how the plans remain dependent on the circumstances.

District 99 has a four-week plan in place to attempt resumption of full in-person learning. (Annie Le)

“In the [low and moderate transmission levels], the goal is to get students back [to] full in-person. When you’re in substantial or high, where we are now, you move into a hybrid learning model, and that’s really the key delineation there,” Thiele said.

While the resumption of a full in-person learning schedule is contingent on metrics, the hybrid schedule will continue to encourage the return of students to school. Student board member Sam Bull commented on the student response to an in-person model.

“What I’ve been able to notice is a lot of students really like the [hybrid] schedule. A lot of students love being back in school and they’re looking forward to being back in school even more after spring break and hopefully once [COVID-19] numbers go down and stay down,” Bull said.