Algonquin-based Community School District 300 fourth and fifth graders originally were set to remain in remote learning for the remainder of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now they'll be switching to a hybrid learning model this November instead.

The school board had made the decision to keep fourth and fifth graders, along with all the grades above them, remote back in September while bringing kindergarten through third grade students back with a hybrid model as soon as safely possible.

The return for kindergarten through third grade students was set to begin Oct. 19. Students in those grades would be physically back in school 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. four days a week.

Superintendent Fred Heid told the school board Tuesday, however, they have heard from families who are finding it hard to explain to their fourth or fifth grade kids why they can’t be back in school, but their younger siblings can.

District administrators also are struggling to come up with schedules that would accommodate both groups, Heid said.

“The current split is creating issues for both our schools and our families,” he said.

Under the revised plan approved Tuesday night, students in fourth and fifth grades will switch to hybrid learning starting Nov. 2.

This will give a “two-week buffer” period between when grades four and five return and when kids in kindergarten through third grade start some in-person learning again, Heid said.

“I do believe it will help our families and our students begin that transition back and help us continue to address their academic, social, emotional and other needs,” Heid said.

One board member pointed out that schools in Illinois will be closed on Nov. 3 for Election Day, the day after fourth and fifth graders are set to return to the classroom.

Heid said, in response, he wants to bring students on campus on that Monday to have a “policies and procedures” day to get them acclimated to the school environment amid the pandemic and reinforce expectations, policies and procedures.

Board President Anne Miller said while no option will meet the needs of every parent and benefits and detriments come with any option the board chooses, she supports fourth and fifth grade students going back to school in-person for part of the week.

“I'm looking forward to this being implemented and having students back in the buildings,” Miller said. 

Board discussions on when and how to get kids back in schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to protests outside the district’s Central Office, with families calling for schools to reopen, and some contention between parents and board members, who have differing views on whether it is safe to have students physically in school.

Board member Leslie LaMarca said she can understand that some stakeholders are not happy regarding decisions being made. 

Although she welcomes constructive feedback and even what she called a “respectable” level of anger, LaMarca said she does not understand the “rudeness, contempt and intolerance” being displayed by some people.

“The lack of basic kindness, the lack of mutual respect for each other's perspectives and the ugly behavior by some of you who didn't get your way is deeply disheartening,” she said. “It appears some cannot simply acknowledge and understand that there are other perspectives out there that are justified and well intentioned. This is discouraging and causes me great concern for what we are exhibiting to our children as acceptable ways to disagree or how to effectively advocate for our own beliefs.” 

Despite this, LaMarca said there also have been encouraging and supportive messages sent to board members as well.

“None of us wanted this or likes this,” LaMarca said. “However, I am fortified by the knowledge that this too shall pass. Unfortunately, when it does, some will be woefully reminded that our actions in times of adversity often reflect our true character.” 

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