The Woodstock School District 200 board unanimously approved a plan at its meeting Tuesday night to return students to classrooms starting Feb. 1 for a hybrid learning schedule with some in-person learning and some online learning.
The change to hybrid learning next month would mark the first time District 200 students have entered classrooms since the COVID-19 pandemic emptied school buildings in March.
But the district has been in this position before. The district had an approved plan to get students back into in-person instruction but local coronavirus caseload skyrocketing led the district to back off the plan.
School board member John Parisi initially expressed hesitation in moving forward with getting kids back into classrooms, saying he felt little has changed with the pandemic since the fall, but he ultimately voted for the move.
“My concern is that it’s not really that anything has changed, it’s that our tolerance for it has changed because we’re tired,” Parisi said. “And the concern I have is the potential for creating risk not because [hybrid learning] is the right thing to do now, or that we have reached a tipping point in terms of what’s best for the kids, but that we’re all just sick of this and want it to be over.”
The board had voted last year to resume in-person learning only once the four COVID-19 metrics outlined by the McHenry County Department of Health as guidelines for determining when to move between remote, hybrid and fully in-person learning have been met.
Those four metrics have not been met, but Superintendent Michael Moan said despite that, the health department has advised the district that with mitigations in place in schools – including strict social distancing and mask wearing policies – in-person learning in a hybrid model could still be viable.
Board members, including Michelle Bidwell, raised concerns that continuing with remote learning could have a lasting, negative psychological impact on children, a position that helped sway the board into moving forward with a Feb. 1 hybrid start date.
Pre-kindergarten classes will start hybrid learning at a later date, Moan said. That is because a larger amount of staff is needed at the Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center, and district officials want to monitor how hybrid learning goes without the pre-kindergarten students present initially.
Students and parents of students in the district whose public comments were read by the board at the start of Tuesday’s virtual meeting were almost exclusively in favor of resuming some in-person learning as soon as possible.
“Obviously, going back, we do take on risk,” Bidwell said. “While we are all tired, I don’t think it’s because we are tired. I think we have more information and knowledge now. We have the luxury of some other districts that did do this. They were kind of our canaries in the mine, if you will.”