RBHS moving to in-person learning next month

School board says hybrid plan will be implemented despite teacher concerns

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

Riverside-Brookfield High School will transition from all-remote to a hybrid learning model at the start of the academic year's second quarter, which begins Oct. 19. It is a move that a substantial majority of parents and students have been hoping for, although faculty remain wary.

While the plan is to begin the second quarter with 25 percent of the student body attending classes in person one day a week, Tuesday through Friday, that model could shift to 50 percent of students attending classes in person two times each week as early as mid-November.

The school board plans to vote to adopt a hybrid plan at its meeting Oct. 13, just prior to the start of the second quarter.

"I would expect us to get in-person learning in some form or fashion at the second quarter," said District 208 school board President Wes Smithing at a meeting Sept. 22 in the gym of Riverside-Brookfield High School.

The statement followed a presentation by Superintendent Kevin Skinkis and Assistant Superintendent Kristin Smetana that laid out the data informing the switch to a hybrid model and after pleas from more than a half dozen parents and students to allow students back in their classrooms, if only in a limited fashion.

"I know the teachers didn't sign up for this. I know it wasn't part of their [job] description, but that was true for most of us in this room as well," said Riverside resident Cathy Daun, who has two daughters, a senior and a sophomore, attending RBHS. "We owe it to our kids to have them back in school."

Students, who attend classes remotely from home but many of whom visit the school daily to attend athletic practices and for other reasons, said remote learning was mentally and emotionally draining.

"If the board, administration and the teachers decide to continue the remote learning experience, the mental health of all students is at risk," said junior class president Allison Brand, who is also on the varsity swim team and a member of several school clubs. "I personally have anxiety each and every day due to Zoom cutting out and missing crucial information."

Brand said the outlet of seeing and interacting with her teammates at swim practice helped her cope, but said non-athletes are stuck in isolation. And while teachers are trying their best to innovate and make the best of an all-remote environment, Brand says it falls short of in-person attendance.

"We aren't learning even half of what we would be in person," Brand said. "The lack of socialization and seeing our classmates in person is taking a toll on all of my peers.

"I promise you, if there is not a change that is made with our current schedule of strictly remote learning, it will negatively impact all the students at RB."

Parents and students overwhelmingly favor a return to in-person learning, according to surveys dated Sept. 21 that were included in the school board's meeting packet.

According to the survey, more than 70 percent of students and parents favored a hybrid model, with about one quarter of students and parents saying they'd continue to attend remotely, given a choice.

While 76 percent of teachers said they favored continuing the all-remote model, it was less clear how many teachers would either opt to take leaves of absence or retire if the school district implemented a hybrid model.

About 56 percent of teachers said they would not be comfortable if the district transitioned to a hybrid model that followed safety metrics published by the Illinois and Cook County departments of public health.

About a quarter of teachers said they were somewhat uncomfortable while about 18 percent said they were either comfortable or very comfortable.

Smetana said the school district had more specific local data related to COVID-19 testing, case and positivity rates than it did in August when the school board implemented remote learning for the first quarter.

A COVID-19 dashboard from Northwestern University, which allows the school district to examine Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside as a unit, showed that the COVID positivity rate for the two-week period ending Sept. 21 was 2.99 percent, which is lower than both the state and suburban Cook County.

COVID transmission matrices published by the IDPH and CCDPH after the school's August remote-only decision also provide metrics to gauge whether in-person learning can either be implemented or abandoned.

According to those matrices, RBHS falls within the metrics for allowing in-person learning.

"At this time during the pandemic, I don't believe we can return to traditional in-person learning," said Skinkis, who defined that term as all students on campus, participating in normal classes and activities. "That being said, I do believe that there is an opportunity to provide the social-emotional interaction students desperately need right now."

School board members were also unanimous in their support for the start of a hybrid plan beginning with the second quarter, though school board member Laura Hruska urged officials to move more quickly, suggesting Oct. 1 as the start.

She criticized the reluctance of teachers to welcome students back into classrooms, saying that she and others have gone back to their workplaces or in some cases never left them. Parents and students alike, she said, work jobs that place them in contact with the public and put them at some risk.

"We have to live with this virus for all of us who are working daily and have been working since day one," Hruska said. "We wear the protective gear but we are out there every day working with this. Our students are saying they're ready, and in fact our students are working with it. They're in our restaurants and our grocery stores. Our students are taking the risks our own staff are not taking."

Board member Tom Jacobs urged his colleague to tone down the rhetoric and recognize the real concerns teachers have, but he, too, supported moving to a hybrid plan.

"We should have the courage to move faster to go into getting students on campus," Jacobs said. "And we all know, we can always come back [to remote learning] very quickly, but we shouldn't be shy about doing it in the other direction as well."

Skinkis said he has reconvened an ad-hoc committee dealing with the school's reopening plan, one that includes administrators, a board member, community members and teachers' representatives.

That group continues to meet, and school board members urged Skinkis to give them more feedback from faculty on what can be done to make them more comfortable seeing students return to classrooms.

But, it was also clear that a teacher demand for all-remote learning would not be considered.

"The community is saying, 'This is the way we want to teach our children,' and I understand the union's point," Smithing said. "We love and respect our teachers, but we love and respect our children more."

Smithing also called on teachers to tell officials if they planned on not coming back to the classroom for in-person instruction.

"Tell us sooner than later, so we have four weeks to fill your spot," Smithing said.

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Reader Comments

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Ann Keenan from Brookfield  

Posted: September 26th, 2020 9:38 PM

Wow! I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the comments from this school board. How incredibly disrespectful, demeaning, and misinformed! Let you know so you can fill their position?! There are QUALIFIED candidates just waiting around READY to jump into the curriculum? BS! To talk to a teacher like that?! Who do you think you are? Turning a bit orange, are you? So, what protocols have been put into place? What physical changes have been made to the school? Has the ventilation system been totally revamped at the very least? As for board members "going to work", do any of you spend your day in a roomful of teenagers? You know, those people who break rules more than ANY other? Didn't think so! ? As usual, all, "rah, rah, rah", but as for concrete logistics and strategies, "...crickets...". Just disrespectful remarks and threats. You ARE elected to your positions, correct?

Mary Sullivan Proteau from Riverside  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 8:34 PM

Thank you to District 208 BOE, RB Administration, and teachers! Your willingness to consider the "whole" student-both physical and mental is greatly appreciated and valued. There are no guarantees with COVID-19 but I am confident that RB students with Parent/Guardian/Community support and encouragement will demonstrate respect and gratitude for the In-person learning opportunity they can return to. Thank you for being so thoughtful and inclusive in your decision making process.

Fred Mertz from Brookfield  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 5:44 PM

Over the years, RBHS has not been bashful about spending our tax dollars on things like astro-turf for the football field, etc. Why haven't I heard any discussion involving the use of various technologies to help minimize the risk of people passing viruses around in the school, like UVC lighting systems, and additional HEPA level air filtration. These systems will continue to be effective into the future, with any current or future virus activity, like your basic cold virus. This community has the resources to do right by the staff and students, lets get it done!

Helen Gallagher  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 3:59 PM

Ms. Murphy, thank you for a cogent argument on behalf of learning. You replace tug-of-war-until-we-all fall-down rhetoric with attention to logistics, practicalities, and instructional integrity and challenge the community, administration, and faculty to do better by improving distance learning and virtual classrooms. This is exactly the right focus.

Jane Murphy  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 3:17 PM

class at RB potentially exposes someone to up to 70 individuals over the course of a seven period day. There are not many other settings where someone is asked to take the risk of speaking to this many different people in a confined indoor space for an extended period without a level of personal protective equipment that has not been proposed at RB. I do not deny that on-line learning is imperfect and would urge the Board to devote its energies to making it work better. Seven periods of screen time each day is exhausting for my son and I suspect he is learning less overall than in pre-pandemic times. I recognize that there can be individual circumstances that make on-line learning particularly challenging and I encourage RB to creatively address these individual challenges. However, I cannot see how a school-wide hybrid learning system that increases the risk of contracting the virus for every student, teacher and family associated with District 208 without increasing the amount of instructional time is the best choice.

Jane Murphy from Riverside  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 3:12 PM

The Board's key concern should be maximizing learning time for RB students given the circumstances. No information has been provided for how this will be done with hybrid learning and it is hard to see how it can be accomplished without reducing instructional time. If 25% of the students attend in-person classes, what do the other 75% of the students in that class do that day? Will that 75% attend that same class remotely and, if so, how will the learning experience be improved if the majority of the class is attending remotely? Will the students engage in "independent learning" and, if so, what does that mean and what assurance is there that reducing overall instructional time will result in equivalent learning? How can the Board decide the broad parameters of a hybrid learning model on October 13 and expect teachers to rewrite their teaching plans for implementation less than a week later? When teachers and students are inevitably required to quarantine, what is the plan to ensure learning continuity? If teachers need to be replaced mid-year for refusing to teach in-person as threatened by the Board president, what is the plan to make sure qualified teachers can be retained on short notice to ensure that the learning for the students isn't interrupted? It seems that the Board is more concerned with exacting revenge on the teachers for their objections to the hybrid model in August than making sure that RB students are learning as much as possible. Politicizing the discussion and making it into an "us versus them" mentality with those that are tasked with educating the students is counterproductive. Teaching high school students presents some unique challenges during a pandemic. Placing students in relatively small cohorts in one classroom with one teacher, as may be possible at the elementary level, is not realistic given the curriculum. Even assuming only 10 students pe

Jane Archer from RIVERSIDE  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 5:28 AM

This is insane.

Jennifer Harris from Brookfield  

Posted: September 24th, 2020 5:15 AM

I will not be sending my child to school. Too many unanswered questions. Not playing Russian roulette with my kids life! I think it would be more mentally and emotionally tramatic if they came down with covid-19 and either died themselves or they give it to a parent with health issues and they die! No! No! No! JMO

Matt Moyer from North Riverside  

Posted: September 23rd, 2020 8:55 PM

"It's time to go back to work." OK?.. A few questions; Are students going to be tested or are we going to continue with the ineffective temperature taking? Are we going to have more nurses on staff or just the one we have now which is inadequate in non-pandemic times? Are we going to have adequate contact tracing? The problem with people so eager to "get back to normal" at any cost is that it is currently based on wishful thinking and finger-crossing and not on sound scientific fact. New cases are still high and increasing in the suburbs that feed RBHS not to mention the approaching flu season. You can be sure that the numbers would be even higher if students were sent back in school. Our experience with online learning has been excellent. Teachers have adapted wonderfully. Remote learning is not some radical idea but has been around for years and is an extremely effective tool in these trying times. This quote from Smithing, "Tell us sooner than later, so we have four weeks to fill your spot," is by far a most ignorant and disrespectful comment. I can't imagine how our teachers must feel having comments like that leveled at them. But I suppose if you preface it with how much you respect them you can say anything. The problem with some responses to the pandemic is to just throw caution to the wind and say "it's our duty" or "be courageous" and send our kids back to school. Never mind the asymptomatic carriers that we are not identifying that will pass the virus on to fellow classmates who will then bring it home. Never mind the teachers that will get sick because they can be replaced. It's a sad time in our communities where something of this magnitude tears people apart rather than bring people together and inspire empathy for all. We all want our children back in school but they need to return safely. If some parents want to have their children return to school in person by all means send them back. But don't imagine that you speak

Patti Cherback-Hummel from BROOKFIELD  

Posted: September 23rd, 2020 5:22 PM

I am guessing that all of the teachers that are not comfortable with returning to school have not been locked in their homes since this whole pandemic started. Did some of these teachers have summer camps for athletics? Did they not see any other family members but those in the household that they live in? Did they not go grocery shopping? Did they not vote for the hybrid choice of learning and then turn around and protest against it? I appreciate and praise all teachers, but it's time to go back to work. And let me just add that, on three occasions, in one of my daughter's "classes" in remote learning there was no teacher. When looking at her computer screen, it reminded me of looking at the beginning of the Brady Bunch.... With the students being the Brady kids ... looking up and down wondering where their teacher is.... Thank you to the board of district 208 for listening to your parents and students.

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