ST. CHARLES – The start of the District 303 school year has been pushed back from Aug. 13 to Aug. 19.
The starting date has been pushed back to "allow additional time for staff preparation and training, respond to constantly changing guidelines, and further prepare our facilities with the needed protective measures and cleaning protocols," District 303 School Board President Nick Manheim and Superintendent Jason Pearson said in a letter Thursday to parents. "We understand the hardship and challenges these changes may place on families. We remain committed to reopening with a hybrid/blended and remote choice option for our community."
However, the district might be forced to switch to all remote learning as the number of COVID-19 cases in the region continues to rise.
"Please know that due to the changing infection rate data, District 303 may need to continue to adjust our plans and eventually shift to fully remote instruction," the letter states. "Should additional changes become necessary, we will communicate them with you as soon as possible. Our commitment to student and staff safety remains our top priority and we will adjust our plans accordingly."
The letter comes the day after the head of District 303 teacher's union voiced concerns about how safe staff members and students will be when in-person learning starts next month.
"I come to you today as we are now just two weeks away from students returning to school," St. Charles Education Association President Joe Blomquist said in recorded comments that members of St. Charles School District 303's Citizen Advisory Committee listened to during their Zoom meeting Wednesday. "I know many individuals in the community are anxious to get the school year started and as staff, we are too. We are also anxious about so much more."
Blomquist voiced concerns that the school board is placing more of an emphasis on learning gaps than the health and safety of the students.
"We are anxious because the message from the school board seems to be focused on testing for learning gaps as soon as we return and less so about addressing the critical matters of health, safety, well-being and belonging that the Illinois State Board of Education has said needs to be at the forefront of our return," Blomquist said.
He also said staff is anxious about returning to school "because a large amount of staff are finding out now, with just two weeks before students arrive, that their positions are drastically changing to meet the needs of opening our schools to students again."
At-risk staff members also have concerns about returning to the classroom.
"Many more of our high-risk staff members are still awaiting news whether they will have to choose between getting paid or preserving their life altogether," Blomquist said.
He said many more issues also need to be addressed, including how highly populated areas will be cleaned, the traffic flow during passing periods and expectations for small group work and interventions. He called on the district's plans to be refined.
"School cannot function if the adults in the building are not well enough to be there, to drive the students, to teach the students and support the students," Blomquist said. "If you are thinking that our current plan is likely to result in even one student or one staff member being put on a ventilator or worse, than that is a sign that this plan needs to be rethought."
To accommodate families who believe that an online option is best for their child, full remote learning will be offered on a semester by semester basis. The district is also offering in-person learning and a hybrid of the two.
Elementary school students will receive in-person learning while middle school and high school students will receive a blend of in-person and remote learning when they return to school next month.