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D161 preparing for full return to in-person learning this fall, with remote opportunities limited

The Flossmoor School District 161 Board of Education threw a curveball Tuesday, May 25, when it came to a fall planning discussion, following a change in guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education.

“Originally, we were going to talk about ways that kids can certify to be remote in the fall, and we are not, because there are only two different ways for kids to be remote in the fall, and they have to meet both requirements,” Superintendent Dana Smith said. “They have to be not only ineligible for a vaccine — whether it’s age, medical or religious exemptions, etc. — and you must be under a direct quarantine order. In those two cases, we are able to provide remote instruction.”

Smith added that if a child, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, would have been on homebound instruction and eligible for tutoring, those opportunities will still exist. In cases in which that type of remote learning is needed, it would focus on core subjects, rather than how the district has been providing services over the past year, according to Amabel Crawford, the district’s director of learning and instruction.

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Remote learning, as it has existed during the pandemic, will not be an option in the fall, Smith said. But he also noted that there will always be special situations, and the district will have to get creative to rise to those occasions. He pledged to do so based on what they have learned during the pandemic.

“You name it, we may be able to provide better opportunities to our kids using technologies,” Smith said.

Creating five new positions

Eric Melnyczenko, director of human resources, asked the board for permission to hire an instructional coach for social/emotional learning and five math specialists to help with expected needs following a return to in-person learning in the fall.

“Coming into this school year is going to be unlike any other we have ever experienced,” said Board Member Michael Rouse, noting there are always challenges but more are to be expected next school year as the community adjusts yet again. “The challenges will be more significant. As much as we can do to prepare for that now and have a specific plan in place to help interventionists I think we should do whatever we can to make sure that happens.”

The board voted 5-0 to approve the posting of those positions, allowing the district to seek and interview candidates. Board Member Cameron Nelson was absent.

The salaries for those positions were not included in the board packet. Smith said he is expecting more information will be available when the board is ready to approve the hiring to those roles. All positions are expected to be paid with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money, per Melnyczenko’s report.

Other business

  • The district discussed continuing an agreement with SPEED, a cooperative for specialized instruction, which has used a classroom at Heather Hill Elementary School since 2012. The co-op would pay District 161 $12,000 for use of the room in fiscal year 2022, if the agreement is approved.
  • The school board discussed a Regional Institute for Scholastic Excellence agreement to service District 161 students in grades 6-8 who need a different school setting because of their behaviors. There are no budget implications to the proposal, because the program is funded by the Regional Office of Education, per a district report.

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