The Homewood-Flossmoor District 233 board of education is considering options for bringing students back to the Flossmoor campus for the spring semester, but the final decision hasn’t been made.
A decision to move away from the remote learning format to a plan that calls for returning to school one day a week must take into consideration directives from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois State Board of Education, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as input from H-F teachers, parents and students.
In a recent survey, 56 percent of students said they were always or most of the time engaged in online learning. At the same time, 43.8 percent said they felt stressed all of the time, and another 31 percent felt stressed most of the time. The survey also found 83 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that they have positive relationships with their teachers, but only 54 percent agreed or strongly agreed they’d developed positive relationships with classmates.
In an interview with the Chronicle at the end of the first quarter, District 233 Superintendent Von Mansfield said, “In terms of making the best of a difficult situation, I believe our students and staff have done that, and I’m very proud of the outcome thus far. Obviously it’s not ideal under the circumstances, but we certainly have done as well as can be expected, given the challenges that we face.”
Attendance has matched numbers of a typical school term, and the majority of students are satisfied with how the remote learning program is going. Surveys show the majority of teachers, parents and students find the system is working as well as can be expected. Some students are excelling and some are struggling, but the numbers show that most are able to learn through the remote system.
But, Mansfield acknowledges that students miss being with their friends and having a normal school routine.
Even for him, an empty school building is a bit unsettling.
“It’s extremely odd for a building our size and not have kids coming. Hearing the voices, hearing the chatter, hearing the conversation. Just the hustle and bustle, the changing of the class,” he said. “So that’s been very unique since last spring and it hasn’t changed. I don’t think you ever get used to that. It’s a stark contrast and noticeable to anybody who comes into the building.”
School board president Steve Anderson said he’s watched other districts invite students back only to have to shut down again.
“It’s so unpredictable,” he said of the COVID-19 virus. “Seems like nobody’s been 100 percent accurate. Just when you think it’s going to zig it zags. So predicting what it’s going to look like in December or January is kind of dangerous to be a forecaster of what the virus is going to do,” Anderson said, “but I think what Dr. Mansfield and his team have done consistently is put safety of the school community ahead of everything.
“We all want to be back. We all want to do it the right way. We all want to have the opportunity for kids to have as much normal as we can,” Anderson said, “but the opening and then shutting down can be more disruptive than what we’ve done.”
H-F has already brought some students back to campus in the Applied Academic programs because they require hands-on learning or special technical computer programs. Anderson said 26 percent of the students voluntarily come to campus sessions after the regular school day. Classes meet once a week.
At the beginning of November, the district will invite back to campus a select group of students who require special services, Anderson said.
Following IHSA guidelines, H-F has started its sports programs and several teams competed in the fall rotations. Some organizations, such as VTV, are back in limited numbers.
“Those are the things we’re really looking to celebrate, small triumphs of normal that we’re able to see through. And, ultimately watching other schools going through (openings) and where they’re having successes and struggles, (those) will benefit us and planning for the future of bringing our kids back in the safest way possible as soon as it’s realistic. I think that last part is just hard to figure out,” Anderson said.