Prairie Grove School District 46 board approves remote learning for first six weeks of school year

Prairie Grove School District 46's school board approved using remote learning for the first six weeks of the school year during its Thursday evening special meeting.

In a draft plan, the district originally gave parents a choice between in-person or hybrid models.

However, in a letter sent to parents on Wednesday, District 46 Superintendent John Bute said after a thorough review of available data, it was determined "that none of the previously presented and discussed 'in-person' or 'hybrid' models will best suit us to start the 2020-2021 school year."

The limit of 50 persons to a space proved to be a large hurdle for serving students lunch during the day, Bute wrote.

"Based on our projected enrollment, the space limiting requirements and the unpredictability of weather in Illinois (for going outside to eat) we are not able to provide the normal lunch time experience during the student day," Bute wrote. "With these known factors, the full “in-person” approach is no longer a good option for us."

"We appreciate and value the feedback provided to us during the Town Hall meetings, emails, and phone calls," Bute said in the letter. "We are committed to providing the safest learning environment possible by attempting to mitigate the known risks and hurdles inherent in the current environment."

The remote learning that students will engage in will not be the same kind used at the end of the 2019-2020 school term, when it first started.

During this year's remote learning, classes will be scheduled, and include a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities that may include live virtual instruction, recorded instructional videos, teacher feedback, graded assignments and assessments.

Student attendance and participation will be required in all activities, Bute's letter said, and attendance will be monitored by a student’s participation in “live sessions."

Bute said he received information that the majority of the district staff would prefer remote learning.

"I do believe they are committed to that, and will give a 100% effort," Bute said, adding that the district developed a remote learning plan this summer. "It's a very good, robust plan."

Students returning to the school kept the technology they used for remote learning last year over the summer.

"Assuming they're still in good condition, and still working, we should be good to go as far as technology goes," Bute said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the six week remote learning period.

Prairie Grove District 46's 2020-2021 school year will start Aug. 17, and have remote learning until Sept. 25.

At the meeting, board members weighed their concerns about going back to school with the benefits of having children experience in-person learning.

Board member Steve Sebastian said it is important to remember that the decision to go fully to remote learning would cause hardships in some households.

He pointed out that the state is currently in Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois Plan, designed to re-open the state safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Businesses are open, households are going back to work," Sebastian said. "You have to remember, there's also going to be families that are going to leave their job to stay home with their kids. And that job is going to not be there when they return because the company had to hire someone else. So I just want to make sure everyone's thinking about the full impacts."

Board member Sherry Bennett said she liked the idea of a six week remote learning period, where the district reassesses what it will do over the six weeks is over, though she acknowledged that it would create a burden for some people.

"I think that will be the most reasonable approach at this moment," she said.

Board member Stephanie Housh said the pandemic put them in a "lose-lose" situation.

"It's a tough decision," Housh said. "We have to be smart about it."

District 46 operates Prairie Grove Elementary School and Prairie Grove Junior High School, both located on Route 176 in Crystal Lake.