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Homewood schools target March 1 for hybrid reopening

The District 153 school board unanimously approved a plan Monday to move to hybrid learning starting March 1, allowing students to complete the last trimester of the school year in their classrooms.

“I’m confident we’ll be ready to go, as we are today,” said Superintendent Dale Mitchell when he outlined the plan. Teachers and staff will return to Willow, Churchill and Hart Schools Feb. 8 to begin adjusting to the plan and getting classrooms ready.

It is estimated about 40% of the 1,900 students will be attending those three schools. Orientation sessions for students moving to hybrid scheduling will be Feb. 25 and 26 for Willow and Churchill students. Hart orientation will be March 2, 3 and 4 with classes resuming March 8. The last day of school would be June 3.

The hybrid schedule is centered on morning classes. The district is working with Kickert Bus to provide transportation, and food service will be ready to give students brown-bag lunches when they leave for the day. Afternoon sessions will be remote learning.

Approximately 60% of parents have decided to have their child continue with remote learning full time. Some parents have asked to switch their students between groups. Mitchell said they will attempt to accommodate the requests but couldn’t promise that all the changes will be made.

Mitchell said approximately 40% of staff had already had at least one vaccine shot, and he was confident that number would go up before students return.  Still, he stressed “the vaccine doesn’t change our plans for wearing of masks, physical distancing, washing hands, our cleaning protocols. Everything must be at the highest level to ensure the safety of our kids.”

The district shut done its schools March 13, 2020 when Gov. J.B. Pritzker asked everyone to remain at home to limit the spread of the COVID-19 as the virus started to spread throughout the U.S. The district finished out the 2019-2020 school year with a remote learning plan.

Over the summer, teachers planned for a return to classes, designing a remote plan as backup. They were forced to move to remote when special protocols, put in place by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, couldn’t be met by the scheduled school opening day in August. The district has remained in remote learning since then, despite the school board’s efforts in November and January to reopen schools.

While some students have done well with remote learning, others have struggled, and the district’s special in-school program for those students was in place from October until Thanksgiving when a spike in COVID-19 numbers put Illinois back into Tier 3 restrictions forcing schools and businesses to take precautions and limit activities.

School board president Shelly Marks thanked the staff for its efforts to devise a plan that would allow for the reopening of schools. She asked parents to be patient during the first days of school.

“It’s going to be like us opening in August,” she said, and urged parents to call their student’s school with any questions.

“It’s really a daunting task,” said board member Alex Bosch, who said in some cases, staff will be helping students assimilate to a school they have never attended before.

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