As Harvard Community Unit School District 50 moves into the new year, the 2700-student district will remain in a remote learning model with a goal to move into full in-person learning on March 15, if the conditions at that time allow, Superintendent Corey Tafoya said Monday.
In the meantime, the district will gradually take smaller steps to bring some students back into its buildings, Tafoya said, adding that the March 15 goal is not a firm date for switching to a full hybrid model where groups of students rotate who is in-person and who is remote.
“We’re going to start bringing kids back most likely once we see the metrics starting to improve,” he said. “But [March 15] is kind of the date that we’re ... shooting for some type of full in-person return, so we will be doing sort of our own version of hybrid in between now and then in this third quarter.”
After winter break ends this week, the district will hold for a “quarantine” period, keeping all students remote for at least two weeks, Tafoya said. This will give the district time to monitor rates of community spread for any spikes in cases following the holidays.
What happens next will be entirely up to what the COVID-19 metrics show in Harvard and what the district thinks it can do safely, he said.
The average positivity rate for Harvard’s ZIP code has been declining, currently hovering around 13.5%, which Tafoya said is encouraging. This is still slightly higher than the countywide rate of 12.7% as reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health Monday.
Ideas for next steps will be discussed at the District 50 school board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 20.
The first group to be allowed back into District 50 school buildings would be students in their special education programs, Tafoya said, but they are not yet ready to release a date on when that might be.
Another group they would like to bring back as soon as possible is students taking experiential learning classes such as driver’s education, science labs or elective courses like wood shop, which are virtually impossible to conduct through a computer screen, Tafoya said.
“We’ll resume those things, that we were doing in the fall, first and we’ll just kind of build up from that,” he said.
They are also looking at providing more sporadic in-person experiences for students in “transition grades,” who would have moved to a new building this year but have yet to set foot inside it due to the pandemic, he said.
Unlike some other local school districts who moved to hybrid or in-person learning in the late summer or fall, Harvard’s District 50 stuck with remote learning through the first and second quarters of this school year. This means a lot of kindergarteners, fourth graders, sixth graders and ninth graders have yet to spend time in the school they are attending.
March 15 was chosen as the date to shoot for a return to some in-person learning because it marks the end of the third quarter for students, Tafoya said.
If the vaccine roll-out goes as planned and the rate of community spread in the Harvard area has improved, then the district will eagerly welcome the opportunity to bring students back to school safely in the fourth quarter, he said.
Educational staff are part of Phase 1b of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for how to prioritize the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This means that District 50 employees would be eligible to begin receiving the vaccine after it has been provided to all those who wish to get it within Phase 1a, which is comprised of hospital workers and the residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
The McHenry County Department of Health has not yet informed Tafoya of when local school districts can expect their doses of the vaccine, he said, but he has remained in contact with them.
“Before the break, we were asked by the county health department for the numbers we have in each building,” Tafoya said. “So that, for me at least, was an encouraging sign that it is not too far in the distant horizon that we would be able to offer that.”