Central, South set to re-open next month

D86 plans to phase in hybrid model by bringing back 25 percent of students week of Oct. 5

Some students will be back in the buildings at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools this month, with in-person classes set to resume until Oct. 5.

Even then, only 25 percent of each school's enrollment will return, with plans to bring more teens back to campus in the weeks that follow, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss told Hinsdale High School District 86 Board members at their Sept. 10 meeting.

The roughly 100 parents and students who gathered at a "We Stand for the Students" rally outside Central before the meeting believe that is not soon enough.

"Schools in all states across our country are open and we are closed," said organizer Susan Draddy, parent of a Central senior. "Neighboring state schools in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio are open and we are closed. Forty percent of public school students in Illinois are back in the classroom and we are closed. All of the Catholic and Christian schools and all the religious educational institutions in Illinois as well as other private schools are open and we are closed.

"We are getting left behind."

She cited District 86 feeder schools, including Districts 181 and 62, where students are back in class on a hybrid model.

"Everybody is fine," Draddy said. "It is simply not OK that we are closed."

The five Central seniors who spoke also advocated for schools to reopen.

Senior Michael Brescia said he wants to return safely to school, sports and activities as students in other states have done.

"Why are we one of the only states not playing football this fall? Is coronavirus different in Iowa or Indiana than it is in Illinois? It's not fair," he said.

Senior Cayden Torsberg said social interaction is important for everyone, especially teens, maintaining that more kids are suffering from depression than from COVID-19.

"Sitting at home every day behind a screen does not promote well-being," she said. "E-learning is not the answer. We must return to the classroom. We must all benefit from the superior education that our parents' tax dollars pay for."

Allegra Waverley, also a senior, said her kindergarten neighbor is trusted to go back to school wearing a mask and she wonders why the same doesn't hold true for 15- to 18-year-olds.

"I would jump at the opportunity to be back in school, even if it was just part-time," she said.

At the meeting, Prentiss spent time discussing the differences between bringing students back to a high school versus an elementary or middle school. In addition to having a significantly larger enrollment, high school students can't be isolated in a classroom the way elementary students can be.

"A cohort is different at a high school campus than a K-5 campus," Prentiss said. "The reason cohorts are important is it really comes back to contact tracing."

She offered several examples of what constitutes a cohort, such as students in a specific course, those on an athletic team or those who ride the bus together. Two cases of COVID-19 infections occurring within 14 calendar days of each other in any cohort would meet the definition of an outbreak.

"Many different cohorts could be impacted by a positive case," she added. "That's what makes us different from a K-5 setting."

At 50 percent capacity, a middle school might have 250 students in the building, she said. At Central, that number would be close to 1,500.

"We are all sad and disappointed to not be in school," Prentiss said. "But we want to return in a safe measure and we want to keep that continuity of instruction going."

She admonished parents who are hosting homecoming parties, which students have mentioned to their teachers on Zoom lessons.

"We are sad that we are not playing football. We are sad that there is not that traditional homecoming," Prentiss said. "However, having large gatherings and having groups of students get together, you are basically going to cause any plan that we put together to end quickly because there is going to be an outbreak."

And when a cohort is sent home, their teachers will need to be as well, she noted.

"Parents need to work with us and they need to work with their young adults and just say, 'No, I'm sorry.' We have to work hard on the social distancing when they are outside our school walls," she stressed.

Seniors will be back in the building Sept. 23 and 24 to take the SAT, and administrators hope to bring back some special education students for instruction, interventions and support starting Monday.

The Recovery-Revitalization-Restore Committee continues to meet and work, Prentiss reported, and will make its final recommendation to the board at its Sept. 24 meeting. That recommendation will detail which 25 percent of students will return first.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean