A student at Forest Park Middle School has tested positive for COVID-19. | Maria Maxham, Editor

On April 7, 107 District 91 students currently participating only in remote education will join the 247 students who are in the classrooms three mornings a week.

Supt. Lou Cavallo announced March 22 that additional D91 students will be joining hybrid learning. In total, 54 percent of D91 students will be back in the classrooms receiving hybrid instruction on April 7, while 47 percent will remain completely remote.

Cavallo said in a letter to parents that the district has been working hard to ensure social distancing can be maintained in the classrooms and that all health and safety protocols will be followed.

Cavallo mentioned that although the CDC changed some guidelines, and now allows only three feet of distance in classrooms instead of six feet, D91 will adhere to the six-foot distance.

“With three feet of distance, we would have to quarantine an entire class if we have a positive case of COVID,” wrote Cavallo in his letter. Additionally, he said, “Six feet of distance is recommended for staff that have not yet been vaccinated.” According to Cavallo, only about half of the teachers in the district are currently vaccinated.

A group of D91 parents, however, have been pressing Cavallo and the district to answer questions about why the school isn’t opening for longer periods or more days a week.

An open letter to the board of education and to Cavallo, penned by D91 parents Rachelle Ernst, Lindsey Monroe and Jen Gold, thanked the school board, teachers and support staff for hard work and acknowledged the year has been difficult.

“As COVID cases decline, and vaccination rates increase, we feel it is time to relook at options to bring students back to school as soon as possible,” states the letter. “After polling other local area school districts it has come to light that D91 has the lowest hourly weekly rate of in-person learning than most, if not all, surrounding districts, many with much larger student bodies.”

The letter suggests that if D91 remains at the current level/amount of in-person instruction while other districts expand their in-person offerings, other districts “will see improved test scores and academic performance while our district will continue to lag behind.”

“We are asking the board and district leadership to take a critical look at the options available to extend in-person learning for D91,” states the letter in bold.

Some specific questions the parents want answered were addressed in Cavallo’s March 22 letter, such as why the district isn’t spacing kids at three feet, as allowed by the CDC and how many teachers have been vaccinated.

Other questions include the exact metrics or data being used by the district to determine the reopening guidelines and why children aren’t allowed to return five days a week instead of three.

“We believe that the initial roll out of phase 2 has been successful and yielded positive outcomes for our youth both academically and social/emotionally,” states the letter. “We implore the district to reconsider when and how the district can move to phase 3 for in-person learning.”

The letter can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/bhms8479 and had been signed by over two dozen parents by March 22.

In a March 17 communication from Cavallo regarding the district reopening full time as a solution to the problem of daytime childcare ending at the park district, he said that opening for full day instruction isn’t an option at this point.

Cavallo said the current reopening plan was developed with input from different groups of stakeholders, including parents, the teachers’ association, and the school board. A committee, said Cavallo, comprised of administration, teachers and board members, after surveying parents, makes decisions about the reopening plan and when to move to the next phase.

“I cannot unilaterally decide to reopen without collaborating with the others on the committee,” Cavallo said. “At this point, the committee is not recommending moving to the next phase of the reopening plan.”

He pointed out that in the last three surveys of parents, it was pretty much an even split between parents wanting their kids back in school and those choosing remote-only.