D86 announces plans to fill every seat

Students will no longer be able to switch from hybrid to remote or skip in-person days

Many Hinsdale Central students who said they wanted to attend classes two days a week in person haven't been showing up.

"There are a good portion of students, who even though they're in the hybrid, are actually not coming to the hybrid on a regular basis," Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for instruction, said at the Feb. 23 Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting. "Given those trends, we want to talk about a change."

Under the district's new "fill every seat" plan, families had until yesterday to indicate whether they want to be hybrid or remote for the rest of the year. Students who elect hybrid instruction with more than three unexcused absences will be moved to remote.

Of the 1,148 Central students who are attending class in person two days a week, almost 700 students did not attend on their assigned in-person day at least once in February, Covino said. About 370 of those students requested to go remote at least once and 325 were called out of school by a parent for a reason that was not excused.

"What we're doing here with this shift is asking families to make a commitment so those who want to be here as often as they can can be here as often as they can," Covino said.

Families also will no longer be able to elect on a monthly basis to move from hybrid to remote or vice-versa. The district is saving space in each classroom for the 1,123 Central students who are currently remote in case they decide to switch to hybrid. About half of that group could attend two days a week if they all moved to hybrid, Covino said.

"We'd like to fill every seat that is available as safely as possible," Covino told board members. "We are holding a lot of empty seats for students who are choosing not to come to school."

Board member Kathleen Hirsman was surprised by the number of absences.

"I'm trying to square that with what we're hearing from the community is a strong interest in more in-person instruction," she said.

"The narrative that people want to be in school more often is accurate," Covino said. "I don't think these are mutually exclusive ideas."

Students might come to school on days when they have more academic classes and choose to be remote on days when they have study hall, PE and lunch, Hinsdale South Principal Arwen Pokorny Lyp said.

Board member Cynthia Hanson expressed her exasperation with the situation.

"We're holding a seat for someone who is deciding to be home one day, deciding to come to school the next day," she said. "I find that extremely frustrating."

Superintendent Tammy Prentiss told Hanson she is not alone.

"Now you understand whey the deans gave us this data," Prentiss said. "They are extremely frustrated."

Board member TJ Edwards asked how much of the inconsistency might be related to students feeling discouraged when they arrive at school to find only one or two other students in the classroom.

Pokorny Lyp said that is a concern, but one she heard voiced more often in the fall.

"It's very complicated based on students' home life situations and personal situations," she said.

Knowing exactly how many students can be expected in each class will allow administrators to investigate whether students might be able to attend four days a week.

A four-day-a-week schedule would duplicate the current schedule. For example, a student in the A group would repeat Monday's schedule on Thursday and Tuesday's schedule on Friday.

Teachers will continue to instruct over Zoom, Covino told The Hinsdalean after the meeting.

"It is important that students still have the option to learn remotely," he wrote in an email. "We believe that our current instructional model provides the best overall experience for both groups of students (hybrid and remote) and best opportunity for them to access the curriculum and their teachers."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean