Oswego School District 308 staff members are expected to present plans to the Board of Education Sept. 28 detailing how the district's teachers and 16,800 students can return to their classrooms amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
The information is expect to include optons that would allow the distirct's parents to choose in person or remote learning for their children.
The board voted 5-2 Aug. 3 to begin the 2020-2024 school year under a "Remote For All" program due to public health concerns resulting from the pandemic.
The board's Sept. 28 meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at Oswego East High School, 1555 Chicago Road.
During a Sept. 14 meeting, board members shared their thoughts on what they believe needs to happen to allow students through school doors.
"I've been thinking a lot about all of the options we have in the future," board member Toni Morgan said, adding her support for continuing remote learning. "A lot of people are either fragile themselves, they have fragile people in their families or they have considerations of how they're supposed to keep going if somebody gets sick.
"And I know that some people think that coronavirus is just not a big deal, but the problem for me is that when I think of being off work for eight weeks with an illness or being off a week or two weeks and not feeling good for a while. That's a pretty serious consideration for a lot of people."
Logistically, she said, district staff should be able to find a way to bring back students who need in-person learning the most, including students with special needs.
Morgan, who works as a teacher in Yorkville School District 115, also pointed out that the cost of remote learning is less for the district, than offering in person education.
Christy Tyler, the district's chief financial officer, previously presented data to the board showing that a hybrid of in-person and remote learning for one semester would place the district at about an $8 million deficit, exacerbated in part by the state of Illinois' decision to flat fund the Evidence Based Funding formula.
"I know that that should not be the overriding factor, but in a district like Oswego where we're having some financial difficulties, I think that's an issue for all of us as board members," Morgan said.
Remote learning also offers continuity of education, she added, whether it's a continuity of a "bad" or "good" situation.
Board members Brent Lightfoot and Ali Swanson both expressed their desire to see students and teachers return to learning in schools.
"We've heard a few impassioned comments this evening, and we're all well aware of the impact of remote learning, not just on kids with special needs, but all kids," Lightfoot said.
In response to an email he received over the weekend, Lightfoot said he responded, "I don't think there's a single board member that doesn't want to be back in person, and I think sometimes that's lost on some members of the public. We want to get there, and we will get there, but there's a process to it. We are looking at and considering all sorts of different things."
Lightfoot said that he was encouraged every day when he reads an article about a school district opening up for hybrid or in person education.
"I'm not discounting the severity of COVID or the risks, but what I am saying is that other districts have found ways to make it work. We will find a way to make it work, and I am excited for the next board meeting when we're going to talk about this in more detail," Lightfoot said.
Board member Alison Swanson, who teaches in West Aurora School District 129, said that she thinks "we need to get back to work" but that the first step is getting teachers in buildings.
"I'm more of a 'Throw the kid in the water and see if he can swim' instead of dipping my toe in," Swanson said. "But I understand that doesn't work for everybody. That's why we're all different. I honestly believe that we have to get teachers back in the building because we have to figure out how to make that work. Once we can figure out teachers in buildings, then we can start bringing in sets of kids into buildings. And we can't wait until October or November or December, we have to do that now."
While he highlighted whe he described as "another successful week" of remote learning in his home, Vice President Matt Bauman questioned the impact of remote learning on some groups of students.
"The concern that I've had from the very beginning, and I've stressed it over and over again, are the students that we're going to lose, the students that this is not going to work for," Bauman said. "The size of this building is immense and our guidelines are social distancing and masks. If out of our 23 buildings, we don't have a way yet...to help the (students) that are out there, that are identified, in the space that we have with the staff that we have, I can't wrap my mind around why we can't have a handful of kids.
"If it's not your group yet, be patient, but we have to start somewhere," Bauman said. "It is working for some people and it's working out well, but we have to figure out a way to help the kids that it's not working for and get the the help they need."
"What is equal in this type of situation is not always what is fair," board secretary Ruth Kroner said.
While Kroner said her own kids are fine with remote learning she said she remains concerned for other students.
"I hope that we will not be so concerned with the fairness of everybody getting to go back at the same time at the expense of what is doing the right thing. There are going to be people who are not happy, because we all want our kids to be in the building," she said.
Board President Lauri Doyle said she believes the district needs to be working as quickly as it possibly can to ensure that groups of students in need for any reason are not falling behind.
"I hope that when we see this plan at our next meeting, we are able to see that we have already been able to take steps towards getting kids towards more than what they're able to get this week, that each week will see more progress," Doyle said.
Later in the meeting, Morgan clarified the plan being presented at the board's Sept. 28 meeting would still have an option for parents to choose in person or remote learning.
The Oswego School District 308 Board of Education will meet Sept. 28 at Oswego East High School.