Central, South will keep their doors open for now

Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools will remain open, despite a recommendation from administrators that the schools close for a two-week “adaptive pause.”

Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh told board members Nov. 19 that the last two weeks under the hybrid learning model have been “extremely stressful” as the number of positive COVID-19 cases has increased and large numbers of students are going remote.

“They are struggling mentally, they are struggling emotionally,” he said. “Students want to be with their peers, but every time they come to a classroom, more and more students have gone remote.”

In two weeks, the number of Central students who are fully remote climbed from 620 to 864, which is a third of the student body, Walsh said. Families are concerned about the rise in cases and see in-person school as too big of a risk.

“This week alone I sent a close contact notification to 37 student-athletes on Monday because someone was COVID positive in that athlete cohort, and then another 52 received close contact notification on Wednesday because a second student-athlete tested positive for COVID,” he said.

The situation is similar at South, Principal Arwen Pokorny Lyp said.

“In-person instruction is challenging in that we had 137 students switch to remote in a two-week time period,” she said. “Teachers have expressed concerns to me about continuing in-person instruction. They are worried about their health. They are worried about their children.”

Other teachers have indicated a desire to continue the current model, the principals said.

Administrators recommended a two-week “adaptive pause,” starting Monday, Nov. 23, and continuing through Friday, Dec. 4. One of the reasons the district wanted to maintain in-person education — to provide continuity of instruction — has been jeopardized due to the number of teachers who cannot be in the classroom due to illness, quarantine or child care issues, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said.

“We believe we have crossed that line now and we believe that we are no longer doing what it is that we were set up for,” she said.

Finding substitute teachers was difficult earlier in the semester, but with so many high schools closed, that is no longer a problem, Walsh said.

“Right now the subs’ only options are us and Lisle, so they are available,” he said.

When board members asked the student liaisons to share their thoughts, both said students prefer in-person learning.

“It’s really hard for students to be fully remote,” Central junior Heather Raslan said. “For those students that are on campus, I know it would be hard for them to go back to being fully remote, even if it’s for two weeks.”

Board members were split on how to proceed.

“At the end of the day, I think my thought is we provide every opportunity we can for students to be in person and have that experience until the system breaks in terms of we just don’t have the numbers,” board member Keith Chval said.

Board member Kathleen Hirsman said the district is at the point of diminishing returns.

“If we have so few teachers in attendance and all we have is somebody who is doing line of sight supervision, and these kids are sitting in the classroom watching a teacher teaching from home on a Zoom screen, I don’t know what is the value is to that, especially if there are only one or two kids in the classroom,” she said.

The board voted 4-3 against the pause recommendation, with Chval, President Kevin Camden, Eric Held and Marty Turek supporting hybrid learning; Hirsman, TJ Edwards and Cynthia Hanson voted for the pause.

Camden noted that the board typically agrees with the professionals who run the district.

“It is not often the board does not follow the administration’s recommendation,” he said. “It is not done lightly.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean