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Dist. 303 parents, students to rally again for in-person learning

School Board members also voice desire to get high school students back in the classroom

ST. CHARLES – Dist. 303 parents and students plan to rally again Monday for high school students to return to the classroom.

The rally will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. near the district's Administration Center at 201 S. 7th St. The School Board's Policy Committee will meet at 5 p.m. at Thompson Middle School followed by the Learning and Teaching Committee at 5:30 p.m. Thompson Middle School is located next to the Administration Center.

The high school return to in-person plan will be discussed at the Learning and Teaching Committee meeting. A group of Dist. 303 parents and students previously held a rally prior to Monday's School Board meeting and also addressed board members during the meeting.

St. Charles East and North high schools have begun the school year with remote learning. Elementary school students are receiving in-person learning while middle school students have a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.

To accommodate families who believe that an online option is best for their child, full remote learning is also being offered on a semester by semester basis. Superintendent Jason Pearson said he understands the concerns of parents and students who calling for a return to in-person learning.

"We understand the social and emotional benefits of in-person learning and we certainly strive to be able to provide that as much as possible and we are moving in that direction," he said during Monday's School Board meeting.

Pearson told board members the district plans to bring high school students back to the classroom by the beginning of the school district's second quarter, which is Oct. 19. The students will be brought back in phases.

"Prior to being in phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, which is when there is a vaccine, would be having an opportunity to have up to 25% of our students first and then 50% of our students back at the high school," Pearson said.

Board member Jillian Barker objected to that plan.

"Honestly, a month of 25% of our kids being in school, I don't know what that gives them," Barker said. "And it being November before we can do a 50-50, a hybrid model, I feel like that's too late."

Board member Becky McCabe suggested that 50% of the high school students return to in-person learning by Oct. 19.

"I am concerned about our kids," she said.

Board member Edward McNally, who is a teacher, said he would like to see the students get back to in-person learning as soon as possible. He expressed frustration with remote learning.

"In a live classroom, you know who is paying attention and who's not," he said. "I want to encourage us to get back as soon as possible with as many students as possible."

Currently, 1,913 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students are participating in remote learning. That includes 43 students in the district's early childhood program, 1,204 kindergarten through elementary school students and 666 middle school students.

Since the first day of school, 244 students have moved from in-person learning to remote learning. Pearson said remote learning will soon be moving to a Zoom platform, which will help solve some technology problems.

School Board Vice-President Carolyn Waibel, whose son is a senior at St. Charles East High School, agreed with those who have raised concerns about remote learning.

"We are failing our kids and we need to set the direction," she said. "So to the people in the audience who have talked to us about our decisions, we haven't made those decisions about high school. We let the administration make those decisions and we've taken the heat. But it's on us. We're the people that have been voted in. It's our responsibility. And every day, I see kids turn into a shadow of who they used to be because of the decisions we're not making."

In a school district survey, 87 percent of families who responded said they wanted in-person learning.

"I think that's where the frustration is coming from," board member Heidi Fairgrieve said.

Pointing to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state and nation, St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 decided to use a staggered, phase-in approach to in-person learning when the new school year started on Aug. 19.

Staffing also figured into the district's decision to change its back-to-school plans at the high school level.

"When you go from elementary school to middle school to high school, the degrees required and the teaching certifications become more and more specialized and more and more discreet," District 303 Chief Academic Officer Denise Herrmann had previously said. "So if we have a third grade teacher or a seventh grade teacher absent, pretty much any adult with a teaching certification or a sub license can take good lesson plans and implement them. But at the high school, you're teaching calculus or physics or French 4."

She noted that at the high school level, it's harder to secure substitute teachers, especially when other school districts are also looking for substitute teachers because of the pandemic. Herrmann also noted some substitute teachers might have a weakened immune system.

"Our need to go remote to start was based on staffing for adults and student safety," she had said.

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