All Stevenson High School will begin the 2020-21 academic year in remote learning. Superintendent Dr. Eric Twadell informed the District 125 Board of Education of the decision at its meeting Monday, July 20. Students, parents and guardians received an email message about the decision Tuesday, July 21.
Here is the email sent to students, parents and guardians:
Dear Parents, Guardians and Students,
This is a letter we never imagined we would have to write.
After much deliberation and having determined that any form of in-person learning as we begin school in August will a) compromise the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff; b) fall significantly short of our high expectations for teaching and learning; and c) not provide any of the social experiences that we would want students to have, we have made the difficult decision to begin the 2020 - 2021 school year for Stevenson High School with a continuation of remote learning in an enhanced Remote Learning + model.
What does Remote Learning + mean?:
- All students will start the school year on a remote learning schedule.
- Families do not need to enroll in the previously announced Remote Learning Academy.
- Classes for all students will begin on Monday, August 17.
- We will facilitate a virtual Freshman Orientation the week of August 10.
- Student schedules will be available the week of August 10.
- Students will meet live online (synchronously) with their teachers and their classes every period, every school day through Canvas or Zoom.
- The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) removed restrictions on assessments and grades for students for the 2020 - 2021 school year. We will return to our “pre-March 13” standard assessment and grading practices.
- We will have a full offering of virtual small group and individual tutoring options available for students.
- If allowed by the ISBE and the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), activities and athletics will meet on campus after school.
- We will provide on-site meal service and safe work spaces on site for students in need.
- We will provide virtual student services and support for students.
- Our PediaTrust and Stevenson High School on-site medical team will provide students, faculty and staff with virtual medical appointments and in-person, on-site coronavirus testing in our SHS COVID Clinic.
- The Remote Learning + model will apply for the full first semester.
- However, if the health and safety conditions allow us to gradually bring additional students, faculty and staff back to campus in a blended learning model, we will be able to quickly do so.
We are currently finalizing the details of our Remote Learning + model, and we will provide you further information on or before Friday, July 31.
As you might imagine, this was a difficult decision to make knowing the impact it will have on families, students and our faculty and staff. Because this decision is significant, it is important to share with you our rationale and why we believe starting the year in the Remote Learning + model is the best option at this time for our students, faculty and staff.
Please excuse the length of the remainder of this correspondence, but we believe it is important to be as thorough as possible in providing a rationale for our decision.
Student, Faculty, Staff Health and Safety
As you would expect, our first, and most important priority in making a decision about the start of the school year has been the health and safety of all members of our Stevenson community. We currently have students, faculty and staff members who have been infected with the coronavirus, and we have family members that have been infected and/or died of this virus. Our support and our sympathies go out to our community during these difficult times.
We know that if we return to in-person instruction, students, faculty and / or staff members will become infected at school. Unlike our elementary and middle schools, we cannot implement guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) and isolate students into “pods” in one room throughout the school day. Even in a “hybrid” or blended model of teaching and learning with students on campus two days a week, we would still have more than 2,500 people on campus each day moving throughout the building in and out of various spaces.
Given these circumstances, we simply do not feel comfortable putting our students, faculty and staff in an environment that might compromise their health or the health of their family members at home.
Beyond the obvious concerns about student, faculty or staff infection, the quarantine and contact tracing procedures we have received from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Lake County Department of Public Health (LCDPH) make it very clear that we could potentially have hundreds of students, faculty and staff members quarantined for up to 14 days at various points throughout the fall.
More specifically, the most current guidance (July 2020) from the IDPH and LCDPH states that:
- Anyone that is infected with Coronavirus must be in quarantine for 10 days from the start of the illness including 1 day without fever.
- Additionally, anyone (regardless of whether they are infected) that was within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 cumulative minutes (over a 14 day period) will need to be quarantined and cannot return to campus for 14 days.
As local schools, including our own, have tried to open up sports camps, we have already seen the significant effect that contact tracing and quarantining will have. There will be constant interruption and shutdowns with potentially hundreds of students, faculty and staff members being quarantined at various points throughout the first semester. This constant and continual interruption will have a serious and negative impact on our ability to provide students with a consistent high-quality learning experience. Whatever benefit there may have been to having students in school for two days a week will be quickly negated when they and their teachers will need to be quarantined for 10-14 days at home one or more times as we start the year and when flu season starts in the fall.
Blended Learning Schedule vs. Remote Learning +
While the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff has been the first, most important priority in our planning, we also want to ensure that our students receive the highest quality learning experience we can offer while in a pandemic.
We have studied at considerable length ISBE and the CDC guidance. We have also reviewed this guidance with our legal counsel and liability insurance provider, and both teams have made it absolutely clear we cannot and should not take shortcuts or ignore the official school reopening guidelines. In addition to requiring face masks and limiting gatherings to 50 people or fewer, ISBE guidance makes it clear that schools should implement social distancing (6 feet or greater) to protect students and adults from viral transmission. In a school of over 4300 students and 700 adults on campus each day, the only way we could come close to adhering to these social distancing guidelines is to reduce the number of students on campus at any one time to approximately 1500 - 1700 students per day.
As we began our planning, we quickly realized that the most effective way to adhere to social distancing requirements was to create a “hybrid” or blended learning model. For the past three months, we have developed a blended learning model in which students would be on campus two days per week, learning remotely one day per week, and doing independent work the other two days per week. While we ran simulations and potential schedules on similar blended learning models, e.g., one week in, one week out, in-person instruction every other day, some students in-person and others online for the same class, etc., they all had one thing in common, students would be out of school more than they would be in school.
Although the blended learning model we developed would have provided students with 2 days of in-person instruction, this model has significant limitations:
- A blended learning schedule would only enable students to be on campus 2 days per week given the ISBE social distancing guidelines.
- Students would be doing asynchronous work (projects, essays, tests, quizzes, etc.) two days per week at home without any contact with their classmates or classroom teachers.
- In a blended learning schedule, we would only be able to cover 50 - 60% of the course curriculum, thus putting our students at significant disadvantage compared to what more we can accomplish in a fully remote learning model.
While certainly not ideal, beginning the year in a Remote Learning + model provides several benefits:
- A remote learning model allows students to connect every class period, every day with their classroom teacher and classmates.
- Students schedules will more closely resemble our eight-period day with classes during the day and homework assignments, readings, etc., in the evening.
- Remote learning classes will meet every day and will cover 100% of the course curriculum. Daily instruction will provide us with a stronger opportunity to prepare students for subsequent studies, not to mention their ACT, SAT and Advanced Placement exams.
Obviously, everyone would prefer returning to a pre-March 13 Stevenson High School. Unfortunately, this is not possible at this time. Of the remaining options, we strongly believe that our Remote Learning + model is the best option for keeping students on track academically.
The Daily Student Experience
As educators and parents of school age children ourselves, we understand schools provide students with important social interactions and experiences throughout a normal school day. The most compelling rationale for having some form of in-person learning is the need for students to regain a sense of normalcy and have positive social experiences during this uncertain time. However, given the significant health and safety guidelines we must follow, there will be absolutely nothing normal about the daily experience for students if we try to bring students back on campus two days per week. In fact, we will be required to do everything we can to limit students' social interactions with other students and adults.
For the two days students would be on campus in the blended learning model:
- Deans, faculty, staff and our security team would enforce the 6-foot social distancing rule and mask requirement throughout the day.
- This will be particularly important (and difficult) as we have had numerous parents tell us they will refuse to have their children wear a mask while in school.
- Teachers would teach behind plexiglass barriers on their classroom desks to minimize viral transmission.
- There will be no unstructured student time during the day.
- We would need to eliminate all student “free periods.”
- All students will be assigned to silent study halls (and assigned seats) when not in class.
- Students would be assigned to specific lunch rooms:
- Senior students will not be allowed to leave campus during lunch periods.
- Students would be assigned to lunch rooms of less than 50 students with tables of 3 students or fewer seated six to seven feet apart.
- Students would need to eat their lunch behind plexiglass barriers as this would be the only time during the day that they could remove their required masks.
- All soft seating has been removed from hallways and common areas to eliminate impromptu student gatherings.
- All meetings between students and teachers and / or counselors would be held virtually.
- Students arriving in the school building prior to 8:20 a.m. would be assigned to supervised silent study halls.
- Students would not be allowed in the school building after school unless assigned to rooms for specific athletic or co-curricular activities.
If we were to begin with any variation of in-person instruction with the health and safety procedures we must follow, including contact tracing and quarantines, and the constant interruptions and shut downs that will follow, we are convinced that we will not be able to create the social experience we want for our students. In fact, we have become convinced that Stevenson will quickly become a place where students don’t want to be.
Many of our current and alumni students tell us that some of their most memorable experiences at Stevenson occur in our athletic and / or co-curricular programs. We are committed to providing students with on-site and / or virtual co-curricular activities that will provide pro-social experiences and connect students with one another and caring adults at Stevenson.
We will have a virtual co-curricular fair in the near future during which students will have the opportunity to learn more about Stevenson’s co-curricular offerings. Students will find new opportunities to explore personal interests. In addition to participating in our co-curricular programs, we will continue providing innovative activities to engage students in a remote learning environment. Activities will include community service opportunities, lunch-time and after school recreational activities, and whole-school events that showcase our diverse student talent.
As you would hope and expect, we, together with members of our faculty, staff and administrative team, have spent thousands of hours over the past three months trying to find a way to provide some form of in-person learning experience for our students. Ultimately, we feel that beginning in August in our Remote Learning + model will give us the best chance to create an instructional model that will provide students with a consistent high quality learning experience and the best social experience under the circumstances, all while providing in the best way possible for the health and safety of students and adults in our extended Stevenson family.
When we moved Stevenson High School to an online environment this past March, our teachers did an amazing job of developing and implementing a plan for remote learning with only one weekend to prepare. By making the decision now to begin the year in our Remote Learning + model, we are confident our teachers will have the time and resources to do even better work in creating remote teaching and learning opportunities for our students.
As you may have read previously, we will be hosting a webinar this evening to personally share this information and respond to questions, comments and concerns that you may have. You can access the webinar here: https://zoom.us/j/99026014518.
We will provide more information and FAQs on our Remote Learning + plan for the fall semester on or before Friday, July 31. In the meantime, if you have specific questions that you would like to discuss with a counselor or member of our Student Services Team, please feel free to call us at 847-415-4500.
Eric Twadell, PhD Troy Gobble