D161 returns
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District 161 begins full-day hybrid learning schedule


Schools in District 161 reopened the week of March 8 without any problems, Superintendent Dana Smith said Thursday during a meeting with the Chronicle.

“We took a leap anticipating where we needed to be this year,” he said, and staff is trying to anticipate where the needs are. This quarter will help set the stage for the 2022 and 2023 school years, he said. 

Teacher Arnee Love welcomes student Bennet Matthys to her sixth grade social studies classroom with a squirt of hand sanitizer. Every Parker Junior High student is expected to use sanitizer when entering a classroom. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Once the major hurdle of how to provide lunch in every building was overcome, administrators were able to plan a schedule for a full day of hybrid school Monday through Thursday. Friday remains a remote learning day. This hybrid schedule will be in place through May 29, the end of the school year. The district will have a spring break the week of March 29, and be closed the following week.

“Lunch was the hurdle, frankly, and once we figured that out then it just opened up the educational possibilities and I think that’s what our parents have really appreciated. Having a full day,” Smith said.


District 161 has about 38% of the student body back for in-person classes, with 62 percent continuing on a remote schedule. In the elementary schools, the smallest hybrid class has 13 students and the largest has 22. At Parker Junior High, the smallest class has nine students and the largest has 17. Teachers are teaching both remote and in-person classes, but never at the same time, Smith said.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Parker Junior High students said they were happy to be back because they missed being with their friends. Parker Principal Amabel Crawford said the first day back students were “air hugging” and very excited to see each other, but they all kept the expected six-foot distance from one another.  

Each homeroom was given instructions on the benefits of wearing a mask and how to properly wear one. 

“The kids have stepped up and they understand those 2 things – the distancing and the mask wearing,” the principal said.

As students enter a classroom, they are asked to use hand sanitizer.

White boards were placed as directionals telling students which way to the band room, etc. Crawford said the sixth graders had never been in the building before, so the signs were meant to help them acclimate to being a junior high student.

Of the three school districts serving Homewood and Flossmoor, District 161 is the only district to plan a full schedule. Homewood-Flossmoor High School and Homewood District 153 have students on a half-day hybrid schedule. They are sent home at lunchtime. Many receive a brown bag lunch to take home.

Crawford said the daily schedule at Parker includes the traditional three lunch periods, but students are eating in the three largest spaces in the building. Each student sits at a desk to eat lunch. 

“They’re six feet apart with individual tables and still able to talk to each other,” Crawford explained. The desks are positioned to meet the guidelines for proper airflow. 

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