A districtwide move to hybrid learning on Jan. 25 was announced during a special meeting of the Huntley School District 158 board Monday evening.
The updated hybrid learning plan released Monday includes a new learning model for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said in an interview last week.
“We’ve been able to rearrange some staff and find ways to get our students in more days for in-person learning from the hybrid model that we ran back in October when we were able to be open,” Rowe said then. “It’s a really positive thing.”
Under the new plan, elementary students will be broken up into two groups with one group attending class in person in the morning for a half day each day and the other group in person in the afternoon, Rowe explained at Monday’s meeting. When students are not in school, they will be completing asynchronous remote learning, meaning it won’t be in real time.
This new half-day model will allow for a smoother transition into full in-person learning when the district is able to do so, Rowe said.
Students whose families elected to stay in remote learning, representing 24.2% of the kindergarten through fifth-grade population, will be assigned new teachers in this move, Rowe said. These new teachers will be dedicated solely to remote learning, which will allow remote learners to learn undisrupted by the schedule rotations of hybrid learners, he said.
Classes such as physical education and art will continue to be conducted remotely as will intervention services, Rowe said.
Individualized education programs for special education students will be accommodated on a student-by-student basis, he said. Students in self-contained special education classes will attend school in person for a modified full day ending at 1:25 p.m., according to Rowe’s presentation Monday.
The hybrid learning model for students in grades 6 through 12 will remain the same as it was when the district offered in-person time back in October, Rowe said.
They too will be divided into two groups and will attend school in person either on Mondays and Tuesdays or on Thursdays and Fridays, depending on their group assignment, with students of each group learning remotely on their off days. All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays, according to Rowe’s presentation.
About 54% of Huntley High School families opted to participate in this hybrid learning plan compared with 65% at Heineman Middle School and 63% at Marlowe Middle School, according to the presentation.
District families across all grade levels will receive a communication sometime this week with their student’s group assignment and siblings will be placed in the same grouping whenever possible, Rowe said.
Bagged breakfast and lunch will be available to kindergarten through fifth-grade students each day and lunch will be provided to students in grades 6 through 12 in person but in non-congregate settings, Rowe said. Curbside meal pickup will be available at Marlowe Middle School everyday from 8 to 10 a.m., but the district’s delivery meal service no longer will be available.
The district’s confidence in their ability to bring students back into schools safely has grown since October, and certainly since March, Rowe said.
This growing confidence culminated on Dec. 18 when the McHenry County Department of Health incorporated five mitigation strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into its guidance for local schools, Rowe said. The district’s ability to meet, and exceed, these strategies solidified the decision to move to hybrid learning Jan. 25, he said.
The five strategies include “consistent and correct use of masks, social distancing to the largest extent possible, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection, [and] contact tracing in collaboration with local health department,” according to the county’s interim guidance for schools.
This new guidance comes with the recognition that schools have more control over their environment than most other public settings and, with these strategies in effect, can often maintain a lower risk of transmission independent of what the rate of spread within the broader community may look like, Rowe said.
“We remain completely in alignment with the health department and continue to expect that we are operating with full health department support,” he said at Monday’s meeting.
This does not mean that the district will not see cases of COVID-19 in its schools following this transition but that it will have the capacity to respond appropriately to prevent major outbreaks of the virus, Rowe said.
In response to a question from a board member, Rowe said he feels confident that the district will be able to keep this new learning model in place for the foreseeable future. If needed, specific classes or buildings may experience temporary shifts back to remote learning rather than the entire district, he said.
“We’re going to hang on and fight like heck to stay in,” he said.