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District 161 to consider ways to return select students to the classroom

Flossmoor School District 161 is not yet ready to return to in-person learning for all of its students, but officials may consider bringing select students back into the district’s buildings.

While no action was recommended at a special board meeting Sept. 29, Superintendent Dana Smith presented to the board the idea of allowing early child, pre-kindergarten and self-contained students at grades K-8 back into buildings pending D161 meeting all state requirements and health guidelines.

“It’s a good way to build up some trust in our processes and our protocols,” Smith said.

He asked the board to consider the idea at the Oct. 13 board meeting.

But he noted the devil is in the details. Chief among his concerns were the numbers — how many students and families from those groups are willing to return to school at this time, and how many on the staff are available to return to that setting.

“Where this gets really complicated is when we start splitting those classrooms,” Smith said.

As an example, he noted one class is as small as five students. So, if even two or three elect not to return, there is a question about how worthwhile it is to hold an in-person class for two children.

Overall, the entire group includes roughly 75 students, and all may not elect to return, Smith said. And he requested direction from the board to gauge interest so that officials can discuss the idea again in the near future. The school board’s next meeting is slated for Oct. 13, but there is a chance based on information gathered in the next few days, that another special meeting could be called before then, officials discussed.

Board Member Christina Vlietstra said she sees it as a “great option” for the district.

“I support bringing our learners in this category back,” she said.

Board Member David Linnear gave Smith a “thumbs up” on moving forward, but said he does not want to see the same teachers trying to manage both hybrid and remote learning curriculums.

Smith noted the district is still in the process of fit-testing N95 masks. Students cannot return until that has been completed, but he expected half of the teachers to be done with fit-testing by next week and the rest the week following.

The board also in October is to revisit its discussion regarding staffing recommendations in relation to remote learning. Officials earlier in September discussed the possibility of cutting certain positions that only have work to do when students are in session. Smith said returning even select students might change the outlook of those talks.

“It gives us an opportunity to do whatever we can to save some positions,” he said.

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