D86 students back to full school after break

Changes to health guidelines will allow students to return five days a week

For the first time in more than a year, Hinsdale High School District 86 is poised to welcome students back to regular five-day in-person instruction on April 5, the day after spring break.

At the March 11 board meeting, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss reported that the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health last week revised social distancing parameters to 3 to 6 feet in classrooms when everyone is masked and the teacher is fully vaccinated. The 99 percent of teachers who chose to be vaccinated will receive their second shot March 20.

Additionally, lunchroom occupancy can now reflect the capacity of the room rather than a 50-person limit; students must face the same way and sit 6 feet apart since masks will be removed. And hallways no longer need to be one-way.

"Based on these updated guidelines, administration believes that, after spring break, we can offer five days of instruction following a regular bell schedule," Prentiss stated.

However, anyone within 6 feet of a confirmed COVID-19 case for at least 15 minutes during the infectious period still must quarantine for 14 days. Prentiss pointed out that in classrooms with less than 6 feet social distancing, that could require the entire class to go remote.

"We certainly do anticipate an increase in students that are going to need to quarantine due to some classrooms that we will not be able to keep everyone 6 feet apart," she said.

People who've had a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 90 days or been fully vaccinated would not be required to quarantine.

About 60 percent of district students are enrolled in the current hybrid model, and officials believe an even higher percentage will choose the five-day plan - which will also reduce the latitude for distancing.

"Those are issues, and others, that we need to continue to work with (the Recovery-Revitalization-Restore committee) and students to get feedback on this move to make sure we are thinking through any potential issues or challenges that this instructional pivot may cause," Prentiss said.

The board discussed the teaching approach in serving in-person and remote students simultaneously as that ratio potentially shifts. Board member Marty Turek stressed his position that all teachers should be in-person.

"The expectation of this board member is that if even two kids are in the class, the teacher's in the class, too," he remarked. "There's no reason we shouldn't be 100-percent back - whoever wants to - with teachers in the class."

Prentiss said teachers have tended to confine themselves to a "safety space" in the front of the classroom at their computers, but now that they are vaccinated, will likely interact more actively with in-person students.

"The gamechanger will be, after spring break, they will all now have this additional layer of mitigation," she said.

Board member Eric Held cautioned that teachers should not be encouraged to teach in-person students at the expense of those on Zoom.

"We still have to make sure that those kids at home feel like they're present," he said.

Board President Kevin Camden suggested the board should consider implementing rapid saliva testing.

"I think we could really minimize internal spread," he said. "It provides an additional layer of security and, frankly, it's the difference between maybe getting the bulk of both buildings through the end of the year with all students who choose to be there."

Officials also said both schools are expected to hold in-person graduation ceremonies in their respective stadiums on May 17 with capacity restrictions. A prom-like experience for Central is tentatively scheduled for May 1 at the school. Last year, prom was canceled and graduation ceremonies were virtual.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean