Champaign Unit 4 school officials outlined a plan for a mix of in-person and distance learning for elementary students in the Second Quarter, at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
Since school began in August, Champaign Unit 4 Schools have been operating on an entirely distance learning basis. However, challenges remain, despite efforts to provide students with Chromebooks, WiFi access and technical support.
In a survey sent out to families, 49% of more than 5,800 respondents said they would like to stay in distance learning, while 51% said they’d prefer some form of in-person learning. The schools are considering a hybrid plan, including half-days in person.
“I hear daily from families that the distance learning model is not working,” Superintendent Susan Zola said at the board meeting. “Some are connected to academic issues, and most are more specific to social and emotional well-being of their child. They have begged and pleaded for a conversation about some in-person instruction for the second quarter.”
Out of the 51% of families who prefer a form of in-person learning, 73% said they supported half day, in-person classes. Zola says that would entail splitting schools into early start schools and late start schools.
Early start schools would begin in-person learning at 7:50 a.m. and return home to continue remote learning at 11:35 a.m. Late start schools would have the opposite schedule, with students starting classes at home, then heading into school for their afternoon schedule in-person.
The hybrid plan includes social distancing in the classroom, with desks six feet apart, and wearing masks. But it doesn’t offer in-person options for 6th to 12th graders.
“This is where there’s a lot of disappointment from families right now,” Zola said. “High schools and middle schools live on a semester model, and it would be a very, very hard pivot at this point to rebuild a master schedule midway through the semester.”
During the school board meeting’s public comment portion, employee Benjamen Gulley expressed concern that in-person learning could put students and employees at risk.
“I’m not here to argue against re-opening… instead I’m going to beg for good information and transparency,” Gulley said. “We need to be able to make informed choices. When asked, we’re told that no one is required to share with employees or the public when positive cases are found and where. I want to beg this Board to require [that] by policy.”
The school district does not have a COVID-19 testing plan ready to use by October 26th, when hybrid classes would begin. In order to test each student every week for 27 weeks until the end of the year, the schools would have to have access to five million COVID-19 tests.
An additional survey of Unit 4 families will continue through October 1. After that, the school board will finalize their decision on the hybrid plan.