Students at Forest Park Middle School, 925 Beloit Ave., will return to in-person learning on Aug. 24 like all District 91 children. (File photo)

Forest Park Elementary Schools District 91 will be starting the school year on Aug. 24 with a return to in-person instruction. This includes regular academic classes as well as a full offering of extracurricular activities, according to a July 8 communication from Superintendent Elizabeth Alvarez. 

No remote option will be provided for the general population of students, although in special circumstances involving medical needs or restrictions and following strict guidelines, allowances will be made.

The district is following direction from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and is still waiting on specific guidance regarding some safety requirements, including mask wearing, social distancing and transportation provisions, but Alvarez said families will be informed throughout the summer as updates are available.

“Our health services personnel have been working diligently to stay on top of related health and safety guidance, and to include necessary adjustments to our plans,” wrote Alvarez in her July 8 communication to families.

The traditional schedule will be followed, with all schools in attendance from 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. except for Forest Park Middle School, whose hours are 8:05 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.

In May, ISBE determined that all Illinois public schools will return to full in-person learning. Schools are only required to provide a remote learning option for students who aren’t eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and who are also under a quarantine order by the local or state health department, stated Alvarez in her communication to families.

In other words, there are strict rules that the district will follow in providing remote learning; it will not be an option presented to all students this year.

At this point, the district will not require staff or students eligible to receive the vaccine – currently those 12 and up – to get the shot. Nor, said Alvarez at the June 8 school board meeting, can the district require teachers to indicate whether they’re vaccinated. District administration has asked but cannot require a response.

As for students getting the shot, Board President Kyra Tyler compared the COVID-19 vaccine to the flu shot in terms of it being recommended but not required. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine is not part of the required childhood vaccine schedule. 

But Tyler pleaded with families in the district to get vaccinated if possible, to protect the health and safety of students and staff and to allow for the school year to run as smoothly as possible.

“COVID is still out there,” Tyler said during the meeting. “We are lucky that we are in an area with really good vaccination rates … But I just want to say very clearly that if you are eligible, and you can receive the vaccine safely, I am begging you to please take it because what we want to do is bring our kids back for a consistent school year that hopefully is not upset by giant swings in COVID transmission rates that then forces us back to a remote situation.”

Alvarez acknowledged that the return to school may present emotional difficulties or stress and that the teachers and staff are preparing to ensure the back-to-school experience is as smooth as possible.

“We acknowledge the transition back to full-time, in-person instruction may be stressful for all, and we also know that the effects of the pandemic will be felt differently by individual students,” wrote Alvarez. “Our staff is committed to learn all they can about post-pandemic needs and supports, ensuring that students who may be feeling scared, nervous, anxious, or hesitant about the return to school know exactly where to find support. A top priority of our planning effort is the social and emotional aspect of our students’ learning and development.”