Administrators in District 209 recently announced that students in the district will start school this fall remotely. The decision comes a few weeks after administrators initially announced that they would start school on a hybrid model, which would have meant students being in class twice a week.

Back in late June, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that school districts were allowed to reopen as part of the state’s Phase 4 recovery plan, but since then the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has started to rise again.

In suburban Cook County, the 7-day moving average of positive COVID-19 cases jumped from 146 on July 4 to 280 on July 22.

The Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board authorized the change to full remote learning at a July 29 special meeting, where Interim D209 Supt. Dan Johnson referenced rising positivity rates across the state, county and in Proviso Township.

Johnson presented board members with a decision matrix that governed the administration’s decision to switch from a hybrid reopening plan, which they presented to board members at a regular meeting on July 14, to a full remote learning plan.

Among the thresholds for determining a switch to remote learning was that the 7-day rolling average positivity rate for any D209 zip code exceeds 8 percent for three consecutive days and that if at least 10 percent of classroom teachers were unavailable to support onsite instruction to a variety of other factors, such as sick leave.

Johnson said that “at least one Proviso community has been at or above” the 8 percent positivity rate for at least three days and the “positivity is in the caution area (greater than 6 percent) in two other communities.”

In addition, as of July 28, 13 teachers have requested accommodations, meaning that they are not available for in-person instruction and substitutes are required.

“This would mean that the district would be at 5 percent of teachers requiring a substitute prior to the start of school,” Johnson said in his presentation. “This does not include any normally-occurring absences due to non-COVID-19 related factors.”

Angela Lanzillotti, the vice president of the Proviso Teachers Union, said the union recommends full remote learning for the 2020-21 school year.

“We know that our members want what’s best for students and to be back with their students, but the stakes are too high to return to blended learning, yet alone in person instruction right now,” Lanzillotti said, before citing the results of a survey that polled teacher sentiment related to reopening.

Lanzillotti said that 212 out of the union’s 257 members, or 82 percent of the membership, completed the survey (90 from Proviso East, 81 from Proviso West and 41 from Proviso Math and Science Academy).

She said that 35 percent of respondents, or 75 teachers, indicated that they have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk for COVID-19, with 30 teachers indicating that they would need special accommodations.

Lanzillotti said that more than half of respondents indicated that they have family members or people they’re in close contact with who have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus while 23 percent of members said they have young children of their own and would be put in a difficult to impossible situation if the district returned to onsite instruction.

Fifty-nine percent of teachers surveyed, or 125 members, said they would feel unsafe returning to class and prefer full remote learning, Lanzillotti said. Ninety-two percent of respondents, or 195 teachers, said that they are either somewhat or very concerned about the health implications of resuming in-person instruction.

During his presentation, Johnson said returning students to the classroom twice a week would mean hiring additional personnel like restroom monitors, school entry monitors and quarantine room monitors. He said that administrators would also likely have to build tents outside of school buildings to accommodate the quarantine rooms necessary for containing positive cases, among other costly measures. The price tag for implementing those changes would be at least $502,000, he said.

Earlier this month, the school board purchased $1.2 million worth of interactive whiteboards at all three of its high schools. The smart boards allow teachers to project images from computers. The boards would have been utilized in the hybrid model, as well, said Nicole Howard, the district’s assistant superintendent for Academics and Family Services, during the July 29 meeting.

District 209 administrators said that lunch will still be provided for students who are learning remotely. Procedures for picking up the meals will be released before the school year starts, they said.

Under the hybrid plan, students would have been assigned to Group A and Group B, with roughly half the student population assigned to each group.

“To reduce the number of students onsite on a given day, students will be assigned to Group A or Group B. Approximately 50 percent of students will be assigned to Group A. The other 50 percent will be assigned to Group B. This will reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing.”

Group A students would have been on-site in classes Monday and Tuesday, and learning remotely on Wednesday and Friday, district administrators said. Group B students would have been on-site Thursday and Friday while learning remotely on Monday and Wednesday.

The new fully remote schedule, which already comprised around 60 percent of the hybrid plan, does not include those A/B groupings and accompanying accommodations. Administrators said that remote learning will start Aug. 17.

Attendance for full remote learning is required and will be taken each period, administrators said. The process for reporting student absences will be largely similar to what was in place before the pandemic, they said.

The district is planning two training sessions “on the expectations of the remote model and use of related technologies” for parents. The sessions, which the district will livestream, will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11, and at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 2.