What, really, is District 214’s plan for reopening? Or are they making it up as they go along?

school bus
school bus, public domain, https://www.maxpixel.net/Bus-Vehicle-Education-Transport-School-Bus-School-4406479

It’s time for another update on the hyper-local issue of the School District 214 reopening plan!  (See my prior update for my comments on the district’s officially-announced metrics.)

There was a school board meeting last night, during which no actions were taken.  The superintendent gave a brief update at the beginning of the meeting which — in all honesty — I only heard parts of, having arrived just at the start of the meeting and missing some items due to making my way to the overflow room.  According to others that were there, these comments consisted of some cheerleading statements about a band concert, internships, test kits and N95 mask access, and some comments about a teacher who passed away suddenly.

Then, this morning, the Daily Herald published an article on the meeting citing the superintendent making more substantial announcements.  Were these also a part of the initial updates?  I can’t confirm or deny.  In fact, the district livestreamed the meeting but did not make a recording available.  And, likewise, there has been no update from the district on its website, nor in e-mails sent to families of students or to residents.  But here are the key pieces of that article:

About 125 students are in school buildings, Superintendent David Schuler said, including those in special education, and those in programs such as automotive, aviation, and practical architecture in construction.

This is odd to me, given that the District 214 twitter account is still sharing pictures of automotive teachers working remotely, having the students check the fluids in their parents’ cars.  In any case, the article also says:

The superintendent reiterated Cook County Department of Public Health guidance that anyone who has been in contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 for 15 cumulative minutes over a two-day period — essentially a few hallway passing periods — would need to quarantine.

“If you have smaller numbers, you can really stagger the times for passing time and we just can’t do that with a school of 2,000,” Schuler said. “It makes it much more challenging.”

But Schuler did announce plans to incrementally welcome back more students — as much as half of the 11,000 enrollment. Whether in this stage or next, he said first priority would be to bring back students who don’t have reliable internet, those who need academic support, those taking lab-based classes and, eventually, all freshmen.

With respect to the issue of numbers, public-comment speakers pointed out that local private schools have re-opened — and not just small schools, but Loyola Academy, with an enrollment larger than all but one district high school.  In addition, other public high schools have reopened on a rotational basis, which is not officially the plan until Cook County reaches less than 70 cases per 100,000.

(My son says:  “this is why nobody should get tested unless they have symptoms — it just drives up the number of cases and the number of restrictions.”  The trouble is that in other respects, the governor is super-focused on positivity rates, and a low positivity rate requires substantial asymptomatic testing, or, if not, a significant cold-and-flu season to increase the number of people getting tested for covid-like symptoms who don’t actually have covid.)

But this last statement of Schuler’s really set off alarm bells for me.

In the first place, the “official” plan has four clearly-delineated stages:  all-remote for a severe outbreak, “special populations” only (that is, special ed and homeless kids), rotational, and “fully flexible” (option for students to come in every day).

Brining in students with lab-based classes “in this stage or next” is not a part of the official plan as posted on the website.  Personally, I think it’s a good idea and the right thing to do, but they should not post a plan which makes the opposite statement.  So far as I can tell, they don’t even have any weasel-words in that reopening plan.  At best, one can label this unprofessional.  In reality, that communicates:  “we’ll do what we want without regard for what statements we might make.”

But more concerningly, a plan to prioritize some groups is not the rotational plan they announced for reaching 70 cases per 100,000.  Other schools have one-quarter or one-half the student body in class on a given day.  If his plan is instead to fill up the “quota” of half the enrollment by priority group, with those with various sorts of special concerns (but who aren’t the Stage 2 “special ed” kids in self-contained classrooms) coming first and freshmen “eventually” later, this suggests that non-freshmen without a concern that gives them priority simply will not come to school until Pritzker’s Phase 5, which, Trump’s hyping of a vaccine notwithstanding, is likely not until the spring, at the earliest.

Now, it’s possible that the Herald reporter didn’t transcribe Schuler’s statements correctly and, again, I can’t independently verify them because there has been nothing announced publicly by the district administration; this is all we have to go on.  It’s possible that the “eventually” refers to “before fully implementing the rotational model”, so that Shuler really envisions a process of, first, self-contained classrooms; second, other sorts of special needs kids; third, freshmen rotationally; and, finally, all students, rotationally.  But the fact that I have to parse his paraphrased comments to try to come up with a way to make it fit within their prior framework, even when it doesn’t, really, is, to put it nicely, frustrating.

I suspect that if they polled parents, at this point in time, with the question, yes or no, “do you believe that you child will attend in-person school this academic year?” most parents would say that, no, they don’t believe that.  The school district administration and school board have given parents no reason to believe they are working towards achieving this, and every reason to believe they are not.  And lacking confidence in a return-to-school will impact students, in ways such as academic progress, mental health, willingness to take “desirable” classes or participate in activities, and so on. Which means: this has got to stop, and the school board and administration must get serious about sharing information and plans, and about re-opening as soon as possible.