When Crystal Lake resident Stacie Morimoto learned that Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 was going to stick with a hybrid learning model despite worsening COVID-19 metrics in the county, she was really surprised.

“I was actually very shocked because they’ve always taken into consideration what other agencies had to say,” she said.

Morimoto’s 9-year-old daughter attends to North Elementary School, and her 13-year-old goes to Hannah Beardsley Middle School. 

While District 47 began the school year with remote learning, starting on Oct. 5, it gave parents the option to have some in-person learning with a hybrid learning model.

Morimoto chose this hybrid option with the expectation that the district’s school board would look at the statistics and information being released by the McHenry County Department of Health. 

Last Thursday, with a “rapid increase” in COVID-19 cases indicating spread within the community is “substantial,” the McHenry County health department said school districts should consider a return to remote learning. This was the same day District 47 set a deadline for families to make a decision on which learning model, hybrid or remote, they wanted their children in for the second semester of school.

The following day, District 47 announced they would stay hybrid, joining at least nine other McHenry County districts that have said they also will stick with some form of in-person learning.

In a letter to parents, District 47 Superintendent Kathy Hinz said the district is committed to continuing its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools by following health and safety protocols. 

“As we move forward and transition from fall to winter, we ask for your help in preventing further spread of COVID-19 in our community so we can continue our hybrid learning model,” Hinz said. “Please follow the guidance of our health professionals: wear a mask when in public, wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid large group gatherings. In order to keep our schools open, we all must take responsibility for keeping our communities safe and healthy.”

On Thursday, when the McHenry County health department made its suggestion, the daily test positivity rate in McHenry County was at 12%, the incidence rate was 22 cases per 100,000 residents and the weekly number of new cases had risen again, meaning that three of the four metrics laid out by health department to help guide districts’ decision making did not meet the criteria for hybrid learning. The health department had recommended districts consider returning to remote learning when two of the metrics were not met.

McHenry County also was recently placed on “warning” status by the state, meaning new COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and public gatherings could potentially come to the area if the situation doesn’t improve.

District 47 is the only one of the four feeder districts into Crystal Lake High School District 155 to stick with a hybrid learning model. The other three – Fox River Grove School District 3, Cary School District 26 and Prairie Grove School District 46 – announced last week that they were going to be heeding the department’s guidance.

However, District 47 isn’t alone in McHenry County in staying hybrid.

The other districts that have said they are going to stick with their hybrid or fully in-person learning programs include Marengo Union Elementary School District 165, Marengo High School District 154, Riley School District 18, Harrison School District 36, Richmond-Burton High School District 157, Nippersink School District 2, Alden-Hebron School District 19 and Algonquin-based Community School District 300.

The decision was a surprise to some parents like Morimoto, although some are happy with the move.

Crystal Lake resident Kendra Rogocki, whose son is in fifth grade and daughter is a fourth grader at West Elementary, said the school district is doing a “phenomenal” job of keeping kids in school and safe. 

“The kids going to school are all totally fine with their masks on and there is a large portion of the teachers that want to be in person teaching,” Rogocki said.   

Her son, for instance, does not learn well remotely, she said. When his teacher gave him a math test remotely, he got a 60%. When they returned to hybrid learning, Rogocki’s son was given a test again on the same information and he earned a 100%. 

“There are kids that need to be in school,” Rogocki said.

Following District 47’s decision to go to hybrid learning, some parents on social media have expressed confusion over whether students would be able to move to remote learning and what this means for their education. 

District 47 spokeswoman Denise Barr said the district is trying to work with families who have contacted them requesting a change to remote learning since hearing the board’s decision to remain in its current hybrid learning model.  

The district had asked families in a parent communication last week to indicate their learning model preference for the second trimester of the school year, but also let them know that indicating a preference does not guarantee they can accommodate the desired change, Barr said.

Vacancies for both remote learning and in-person instruction vary by grade level and school. 

“We are currently in the process of matching up trimester 2 learning model preferences to current vacancies to determine how many changes we can accommodate,” Barr said in an email. 

Morimoto’s family made the decision to move their youngest daughter to remote because she has asthma. 

“Quite frankly, the rates in the community are getting scary for us,” she said. “And you’re also starting to see more cases in the schools as well.”

It isn’t only her daughters’ and other students’ safety Morimoto said she is concerned for, but teachers’ safety as well.

If parents are not comfortable with sending their kids to school for in-person instruction for the remainder of the first trimester, Barr said, students may be provided with asynchronous work to complete at home and may also join classes that are held virtually.

This is what Morimoto said her 9-year-old has been doing since going remote. 

“My daughter is sent a slide every day in Google for her to follow,” she said. 

Morimoto said her kids have amazing teachers, who are trying their hardest to help her daughters, which is what is making this decision and the asynchronous learning, such a hard pill to swallow. 

“Parents that I’ve talked to, they don’t want to do this,” she said. “They want their kids in school, but they are very worried for the safety of their kids, not only their kids getting it, but then their kids bringing this virus home and giving it to other members of their family.”

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McHenry County