District 91 students, teachers and administrators began the school year on Aug. 25, and it’s already different from any previous year. The district made the decision to begin the year with completely remote learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But while D91, like most districts, had to scramble to make distance learning work at the end of the past school year, and assignments at that time were not required nor were grades issued, the 2020-21 school year has stricter guidelines in place.

First, attendance will be taken every day class is in session. And more than once throughout the day.

Second, students will be given grades on assignments, and progress reports and report cards will be issued. Teachers will focus on learning loss but, importantly, also on teaching grade level standards.

“This is real school, and it will count,” said Superintendent Lou Cavallo during a presentation on remote learning during the Aug. 13 school board meeting. He added, “This isn’t busy work … we will be focusing on priority standards.”

In addition to providing a curriculum that focuses on educational standards, the district also wants to ensure that, if in-person learning is an option later this school year, the switch will be as seamless as possible.

“The district seeks to achieve continuity in learning when transitioning between remote and in-person environments,” reads the detailed remote learning plan on the D91 website.

Key points included in the plan are:

–      Remote learning schedules will closely align with an in-person school day, with students expected to actively engage in at least five hours of learning each school day, including a combination of synchronous (live) activities, asynchronous (pre-recorded) activities, and individual school work.

–      Teachers will take attendance regularly throughout the day, not just once in the morning.

–      At the end of each quarter, teachers will provide a report card including both grades and qualitative feedback.

All the schedules are posted on the D91 website, and they give a lot of insight about what’s expected of the students.

Kindergartners, for example, start their day at 8:15 with a live morning meeting via Zoom. Depending on the day, they have live Zoom classes in different subjects including English and language arts (ELA), math, science, social studies and music. There are also pre-recorded classes for them to attend online. Short breaks, lunch and recess break up the day, which ends at 2:45 p.m.

A sample sixth grade schedule begins the day at 8:05 a.m. with a morning check-in. Students go right into learning by 8:22, with daily math, ELA, science and social studies. Physical education, health, art and other supplementary classes round out the day, which ends at 2:30 p.m.

But the district recognizes that with such a different start to the school year and an unfamiliar form of education, flexibility will be needed despite D91’s goal of providing strong academics.

“The district recognizes the need for flexibility during times of remote learning, and at the same time maintains high expectations for learning so students are prepared for future grade-level standards,” states part of the plan.

At mid-term, the district will reevaluate and determine if students will be able to return to school for in person learning. Families without internet access can check out a hotspot from the district; it will connect only to district-issued Chromebooks.

More information can be found on the district’s website at fpsd91.org.