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D161 continues to refine complex reopening plan

Flossmoor District 161 board members continued to help the administration refine the plan to reopen schools this fall and heard good news about a number of summer construction projects at the July 20 meeting.

Superintendent Dana Smith said parents and board members have been instrumental in helping to think through the complexities of starting a semester during a pandemic. 

COVID-19 positivity rates in the area have begun to creep upward a month after the state entered Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan that allowed a broad reopening of businesses and other activities with continued safety measures required. 

Schools are reconfiguring how education will work to take into account stringent safety requirements.

Smith presented the board with a draft plan for reopening and has submitted an updated plan for the board to discuss at its July 27 meeting. He said feedback from the board and parents has been essential to covering all angles of the situation.

“The help that we’re getting from the community and board questions now are pushing our thinking further,” he said. “It’s causing us to think differently about how we approach education. They are encouraging us to be more creative and courageous, to retool our model to respond to the times.”

The draft reopening plan anticipates situations from how students and staff will be screened for infection to providing a new face covering if a student drops theirs on the floor. 

The board is looking at shifts in the school day for students and staff who are in the hybrid option, which includes in-person attendance two days per week:

  • A new schedule will allow for time to conduct screenings. The current plan has classes in elementary schools starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 3:05 p.m. Classes at Parker Junior High will begin at 7:45 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. 
  • There are new procedures for food service. Elementary students will eat lunch in their classrooms. There will be no lunch break for Parker students, but all students will have access to take-home meals, whether free, reduced price or paid. 
  • Students and staff will be required to wear face coverings while in school buildings and on buses, but there will be two outdoor mask breaks in the schedule, and elementary students will be allowed to remove their masks while eating lunch.

Those are a small sample of the details listed in the 18-page plan. In addition, the district is completing a frequently-asked-questions document to help students, parents and staff navigate the new system.

Smith said after the two documents are discussed by the board on Monday, the administration will review possible changes the following day. He expects the completed versions to be posted on the district website sometime within the week. They will remain subject to change as the semester opens and the plan is put into practice.

In other business, the board received reports on progress with construction projects, including HVAC work at Flossmoor Hills and Western Avenue schools and the development of STEAM labs at Flossmoor Hills, Heather Hill, Serena Hills and Western Avenue schools. STEAM refers to science, technology, engineering, arts and math education.

Smith said the approximately $4 million projects are on track to be completed before school begins.

The STEAM labs were designed prior to the imposition of pandemic restrictions, but Smith said they would still be usable.

“They will have to look differently than they did in the past, but the focus was on flexibility the whole time,” he said. “As far as creating socially distanced learning opportunities, I think we’ll be OK in the STEAM labs.”

STEAM instruction emphasizes collaboration, and physical distancing requirements will mean the approach to projects will have to be reconsidered, he said.

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