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H-F High students will be back to remote learning in fall

The District 233 school board directed Superintendent Von Mansfield to prepare for school to start on a remote learning schedule that will keep students out of the building but working with teachers through classes conducted online.

Mansfield made the recommendation for remote learning at a special board meeting Tuesday. He said he could not ask board members to approve opening Homewood-Flossmoor High School because he could not successfully meet the many obligations for health and safety that are recommended by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The board did not vote on the plan. That will come at the Aug. 18 regular meeting. Through a straw poll members agreed unanimously to give Mansfield the directive to move forward to start the year with the remote learning.

The board also agreed to move the start of school back to Monday, Aug. 17. The scheduled first three days of school – Aug. 12, 13, 14 – will now be used for teacher professional development.

Each student and teacher will be given a Chromebook to use for all activities, including signing in to each class, submitting papers and taking tests, scheduling meetings with fellow students, teachers and other staff.

Under remote learning, students will have 250 minutes each week with synchronous learning by interacting with teachers, and another 50 minutes for asynchronous learning that gives students time to work individually or in groups.

Teachers will hold classes Monday through Thursday. Friday will include time for students to work on assignments, as well as make appointments with social workers and counselors, attend special education meetings and work on test preparation.

“We are all trying to do our due diligence. We’re all trying to do our very best,” Mansfield said. He stressed “there are no definitive answers” because directions from state agencies change. 

As the remote system is put in place, administrators and teachers will discover what works and what adjustments are needed, he added. He stressed that the system will be much more rigorous than what students had when schools were forced to close during the spring semester.

The Homewood-Flossmoor Education Organization, the teachers union, had asked for remote learning, noting 75 percent of its membership was apprehensive about returning to the classroom. 

The district also found more parents had moved toward remote learning. In the three weeks time between parent surveys, the number jumped from 26 percent to 49.3 percent voting for remote learning.

The board passed on the hybrid plan that would have split the student population into two groups. Each group would come to H-F two days a week with remote the other three days. 

Administrators presented many ISBE guidelines for the hybrid model that the administration couldn’t find clear answers to: meeting social distancing and everyone wearing masks all day; no shared materials; sanitizing 180 classrooms during 15-minute passing periods; setting up isolation rooms for sick students; lunch periods with social distancing and a maximum of 50 persons in a space.

The board asked staff for more discussion on how to get students to stay online, possibly by adding some incentives. Several board members argued students aren’t always involved in learning. Administrators are planning for remote tutoring sessions.

The district will be holding meetings with families and students about expectations and support. Students will be given assessments and there will be academic measurements, said Principal Jerry Anderson.

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