School Board Approves Modified COVID-19 Plan

By Jeremy Coumbes on March 18, 2021 at 4:48pm

District 117 is taking a slightly different approach to recently relaxed restrictions by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The school board approved modifications to District 117’s current COIVD-19 plan during their March regular meeting last night.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Ptacek said during the meeting, that he was unsure if a vote was required, but felt it in the best interest of all to have board approval.

A major change in the state regulations was the removal of the mandate on remote instruction. Ptacek says district administration did consider bringing all students back into the classroom and only offering remote learning for those with qualifying health and safety concerns.

Ptacek says many districts are considering a move to in-person learning only, but that might not be a feasible option in every case, especially at JHS and JMS where it is likely not logistically possible to move to a full-day schedule at this time.

He says although the district feels it is in the best interest of students to be back in school, but more important is the need to determine where students are academically and if they are ready to move to the next grade level.

Ptacek says school administration respects the decision of parents who choose to keep their students on remote learning through the remainder of the current school year, so the focus will turn to an evaluation process for all students to gauge their current grade level.

It’s not a judgment process it is just very basic skills that students need, that we know if they don’t have it will put them in jeopardy of failure next year. Many of our students now last weekend have been out of school for a year. Without direct instruction from teachers, without being around their peers, and that’s highly concerning.

So I don’t want any of the parents to think- it’s not an ACT-type assessment sit down and grill the kids. Informal just the teachers having an opportunity to sit with them and say if they’re ready or not. If they’re close to being ready but not quite there that’s when we are recommending our summer school. Which we will be taking place for three weeks, really from July 19th to August 6th.

That is just to get those skills ready for them, then go into the year successful. School districts across the region, across the state, across the nation, are all in a crisis mode of how do we deal with an educational loss Covid has created, this is the best solution we can come up with to ensure our kids are ready.”

Ptacek says if students return to in-person learning before April 15th, they can likely avoid the assessment as teachers will have then six weeks to evaluate their ability in the current grade level, and if they need to attend summer school because they are close to ready, or if they should stay in their current grade level another year.

Ptacek says if students do not return to in-person instruction at school until the start of the next school year, they will have gone 18 months without direct in-classroom instruction by a teacher, so even under the best possible circumstances, there is no way to truly know what level students are currently at without some kind of evaluation.

He says the assessment program is still in its infancy of development, however they do know that remote students will not be assessed remotely.

We’re gonna ask them to come in, that we do know. We’re gonna set up times for them to come in and work with very small groups. Not with other students but a small group of staff and the first week of May is when we want to start taking place. My staff through April to develop these assessments, just on the primary learning objectives of English skills and math skills.”

Ptacek says luckily it looks like the district is going to receive enough federal stimulus money to provide the extended summer school for not only this summer, but the next two after that, through 2023