The District 233 school board will have two options on the table July 14 when it decides which is the better plan for the 2020-21 school year.
In the first plan, Homewood-Flossmoor High School students would attend on split schedules with students grouped for Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday in-person instruction. This proposal is being called a blended schedule, or a hybrid. On the days students are not on campus, they will be learning via computer. Fridays will be open for small groups, teacher development, sessions with counselors, etc.
Administrators are suggesting that the opening days of school be used as informational and training sessions to make certain students understand the new scheduling and safety protocols.
The second plan is remote learning four days a week, with the fifth day for small groups, teacher development, etc. Should Illinois see a resurgence in COVID-19 numbers that would force a shutdown of schools, H-F will automatically revert to remote learning.
Illinois mandates five hours of class time each day.
It is impossible to bring all 2,800 students to campus this fall and still maintain health and safety protocols, Superintendent Von Mansfield told members of the school board’s Planning Committee on Wednesday as they reviewed the two proposals.
“Just understand, there is not going to be a 100 percent solution, no matter what we do. There just isn’t a good solution to the challenges that we face at this time,” Mansfield said.
Even splitting the student body into groups of 1,400 students has numerous challenges, including:
- How to keep family members on the same schedule.
- How to serve students lunch with a limit of 50 students in a space at one time.
- How to keep the environment clean.
- How to provide for social distancing in classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and other gathering spaces.
“We’re trying to be back in school,” Mansfield said, noting state directions change often. “One variable is added and it changes everything.”
For the past several weeks H-F Principal Jerry Anderson has organized teacher and administration teams to review various needs: transition, social/emotional, professional development, scheduling and logistics. From those, a steering committee developed the recommendations, but Anderson said the plans “are still a work in progress.”
The board needs to make accommodations for students who, for whatever reason, will be doing remote learning. The district has ordered cameras for remote viewing that will give students a full view of the classroom; additional computers for student use have been ordered.
The planning team has also looked at how to conduct gym classes. The traditional physical education classes will not be held, unless they are outside, but students will have to be dressed for PE. Lockers will be off limits. When the weather is inclement, PE teachers will use indoor class sessions for social/emotional programs.
Choir and band can only meet outdoors. Teachers are still thinking through how these classes will be structured indoors.
Applied academics classes, such as culinary arts, welding and auto shop will have new protocols because each piece of equipment will need to be cleaned between each student’s handling it.
Classes that use technology, such as graphics, computer science, Project Lead the Way (pre-engineering), broadcasting and journalism will be limited to on-campus sessions. Anderson said the computer programs used in those classes are licensed to the school and cannot be transferred to students for at-home assignments.
There is no set plan on how to accommodate after-school activities, clubs or sports.
Passing periods between classes will be longer than normal. Markings will be laid on floors to remind everyone of the social distancing guidelines. Paths between buildings may be designated for one-direction only. Masks will be required at all times.
The superintendent noted the H-F buildings will get a deep cleaning every night. If necessary, additional maintenance hours will be added. Teachers will be cleaning surfaces in their rooms between classes.
Dana Noble, president of the H-F Education Organization, the teachers union, said about half of the 200 members responded to a survey. The majority believe remote learning is the safest way to teach, although some programs, like welding, will need small group instruction.
Noble said although 70 percent of the respondents said they are apprehensive about coming back to school, he believed teachers would be present if the hybrid plan was adopted. At the same time, they would like their health issues addressed.
“We want to be as safe and secure as possible,” he said.
Debbie Berman, chair of the committee, thanked teachers and administrators for their efforts. She said while the community has no idea how this back-to-school planning works, but she recognized, “The thoughtfulness put in to this is extraordinary.”