'New way of doing school' looms in fall

Hinsdale High School District 86 officials expect in-person learning to resume for the 2020-21 school year. But exactly what that will look like in the midst of a pandemic remains unclear.

At the June 25 school board meeting, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss updated board members on the work of the district's Recovery-Revitalization-Restored Committee, a group composed of teachers, department chairs, and building and district administrators charged with crafting return-to-school plans.

Among the preliminary guidelines developed for in-person instruction are the required use of face masks, either mandated temperature checks or self-certified assurances of health at entry and a prohibition against more than 50 individuals gathering in one space. The guidance closely follows that outlined in a 60-page document jointly put out by the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois State Board of Health two days earlier. But Prentiss said that missive falls short of providing many firm parameters.

"You will see that many times (the document) uses the phrase, 'If possible ...,' 'In consideration ...,' "Consult with local. ...,' she reported. "This guidance document does not give a lot of clear direction."

For example, Prentiss cited, the 50 people-per-room restriction would render lunch in Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South cafeterias unworkable.

"That means our students could not have lunch because we would have to start school at 3 in the morning to have that many lunch periods," she remarked, suggesting cafeterias instead be treated like restaurants and serve at 25-percent capacity.

Hinsdale Central Principal and RRR Committee member Bill Walsh, who participated in the meeting remotely due to having contracted COVID-19 himself, said while in-school learning is optimal, a hybrid model in which students would move between in-person and remote learning may also come into play.

"We should all anticipate at some point a remote learning environment will be required due to the public health crisis," Walsh said. "We recognize that the most powerful, impactful and meaningful way to promote student growth is through in-person instruction. But we also know that during a public health crisis, we must take purposeful steps to ensure a return to school in person is both safe and sanitary.

"The school day environment will not be fixed throughout the '20-21 school year," he added

Officials said costs are expected in procuring masks and having increased staff to perform more frequent cleanings of common areas. Prentiss said she is working in close collaboration with other schools across the county to align their approach.

"DuPage County superintendents are extremely interested in working together in making sure ... DuPage County stays united both in academics and co-curriculars," she said.

Board member Kathleen Hirsman thanked staff for the update and urged patience from the community as the landscape keeps shifting.

"There's a lot of people who think they have the solutions, and we just need to let them know there are no simple solutions," Hirsman said.

Board President Kevin Camden said the board has to consider what's best for all in the district's community.

"The primary guidance is health and safety of the students," Camden stressed, underscoring that face masks will be required. "We have students and staff that have auto-immune diseases and other concerns that we have to be sensitive to, so this is not going to be a one-size fits all return, either."

Prentiss said there will be a category for Transition Center students who can take part in-person activities to meet their special needs when the rest of the district may be doing remote learning. She declared that one thing is certain.

"Whatever August looks like, it's no longer school as usual. It is a new way of doing school," Prentiss said.

The RRR Committee is expected to present its recommended plan for the 2020-21 school year at the board's July 23 meeting.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean