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Illinois state lawmakers recently approved a rule requiring Illinois teacher training programs to adopt ‘culturally responsive teaching and leading’ standards. Critics say a political litmus test is the wrong focus when students are underachieving on the basics.

new rule that requires “culturally responsive teaching and leading” standards to be incorporated in all Illinois teacher preparation programs will take effect in 2025, because the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to approve the proposed rule on Feb. 17. Eight of the committee’s 12 members would have needed to vote to suspend the rule to prevent its implementation, and only the six Republican members voted to do so.

The Illinois State Board of Education adopted the new standards to “prepare future educators to teach diverse students [and] to foster classroom and school environments in which every student feels that they belong.”

Critics of the new standards, however, have said they require educators to embrace left-leaning ideology and prioritize political and social activism in classrooms at a time when Illinois students are underperforming on basic skills tests. Others, such as the Chicago Tribune, have praised the goal of preparing teachers to engage with students from diverse backgrounds, while also warning that there is reason to worry the new rule “embeds politics into teacher training” and that it is unwise to impose controversial new standards in “today’s highly charged political environment.”

Read more from Illinois Policy here.

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Getting students back into schools for full-time instruction is an ambitious goal school administrators have been struggling with since the start of the pandemic.

Several suburban superintendents weighed in this week on President Joe Biden’s pledge to reopen a majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning five days a week by the end of his first 100 days in office, which is April 30. They say that while it’s a good idea in theory, there are practical and logistical challenges.

Among the hurdles are parents’ hesitancy with sending children to school amid a pandemic, space constraints, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines requiring 6-foot social distancing in classrooms and monitoring of transmission rates.

“If we were to adhere to all the guidelines, could we offer five-day, in-person instruction for every student? The answer is, no. We don’t have the space,” said Fred Heid, superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300. “The president and his team are very well-intended, but the reality of what they are trying to accomplish and what it actually means in terms of the logistics, it’s almost impossible.”

Roughly 70% of District 300 families have opted for in-person instruction for the second semester. Students in prekindergarten through fifth grade now attend school in person four days a week, while students in sixth through 12th grades attend two days in person and three days remotely.

Starting March 1, middle and high school students will be split into two groups rotating between attending three days in person one week and two days in person the following week. Elementary students will begin attending five days a week beginning March 22.

Read more here.

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District 220 statement: 

Due to severe weather Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 will be a Distance Learning day in Barrington 220 and all buildings are closed. All teachers and students will follow their current schedule via zoom. All PreK-12 teachers will conduct their classes from home following the daily schedule. As a result, Barrington 220 will not have to make up this emergency closure day at the end of the school year.

Although the district plans to follow as close to the daily schedule as possible, instructions and expectations may look different throughout the day. Please keep in mind that teachers are working at home and may have unforeseen circumstances that arise. We ask that you be flexible and patient during this emergency day.

We acknowledge the inconvenience closing school may cause and we appreciate your understanding of our need to put the safety of students and staff first. For recorded information on athletic and co-curricular activities, please call 847-842-3292. Thank you.

District 300 statement:

In keeping with our commitment to student and staff safety, District 300 schools will not hold in-person instruction on Tuesday, January 26. All classes will resume remotely and all students in grades pre-K through 12 will receive remote synchronous instruction. 

For complete details, please click here.

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Marengo’s Zion Lutheran School has not reported a single case of the virus among students or staff in the 54 days they have been in school

Leaders of local private schools told McHenry County Board members that in-person learning has been safe and successful for them, while many public school districts have chosen to heed guidance from the McHenry County Department of Health about returning to remote learning.

With much frustration and fear coming from community members who support either in-person or remote learning, Public Health and Community Services Committee Chairman Chris Christensen said he invited the local private school leaders to Thursday’s meeting for a fruitful, level-headed exchange of ideas.

It’s about “talking to some of the private schools that are having such success in keeping their kids in school,” said Christensen, who represents District 3 on the County Board. “COVID-19 doesn’t understand the difference between a public school and a private school necessarily, but I know the numbers can be different.”

Among the invited guests were Dan Bertrand and Merri-Lynne Seaburg, co-principals of Marengo’s Zion Lutheran School, who said they have not reported a single case of the virus among students or staff in the 54 days they have been in school.

“There is no reason why you cannot have kids in school right now,” Bertrand said. “There is no place safer for a kid to be than in the schools. … The virus is not being transmitted inside of schools.”

Bertrand referenced a Brown University study titled “Schools Aren’t Super-spreaders,” in which data on 200,000 students in 47 states from the end of September was analyzed to reveal an average COVID-19 infection rate of 0.13% of students and 0.24% of teachers.

Read more here.

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A crowd gathered at a D300 reopen rally Tuesday to have children return to in-person school at the Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 Central Office on Harnish Road in Algonquin. Ryan (Rayburn/Shaw Media)

While Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300’s board approved bringing kindergarten through third grade students to a hybrid learning model as soon as it is safely possible, grades four through 12 will be remote until their second semester in January.

A specific date for kindergarten through third grade students to go to this hybrid model was not set at the school board meeting Tuesday.

The decision to bring younger students to a hybrid model earlier is because kindergarten through third-graders are at what board members say is a “pivotal” time in their education, and it is the age group that is struggling with remote learning the most.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, District 300 schools have been learning and teaching remotely since the beginning of the year.

At the meeting, a couple of hybrid models were proposed for kindergarten through high school students in October, although some school board members took issue with making this transition in the middle of the semester.

Read more here.

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Katie Myers teaches English on Thursday at Butler Junior High School in Oak Brook. Brian Hill (Staff Photographer)

It took all summer for Butler Elementary District 53 in Oak Brook to get ready for students to return to the classroom this fall.

Some students opted for remote learning, but about 60% of them returned to the schools. They started with half days, and more than a week ago began all-day in-person learning. The district has been able to avoid any cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff, something Superintendent Paul O’Malley chalks up to the summerlong preparations.

“Overall, to date, it’s been pretty successful,” he said.

District 53 is one of nine suburban public school districts that started the school year with in-person learning. Administrators in several of the nine, which tend to have smaller student populations than many in the suburbs, report their districts remain free of COVID-19. One, Itasca Elementary District 10, is reporting four staff members and as many as five students have contracted the disease since school started Aug. 20. All the cases were contracted out of school, administrators said.

Northbrook Elementary District 28 officials notified parents Tuesday that one person at Greenbriar Elementary has tested positive.

When that happens, state guidelines require that anyone who is within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes must quarantine for 14 days or until medically cleared. Rooms have to be deep-cleaned and health departments are also notified.

“Yes, we have received reports of COVID-19 cases associated with schools — several individual cases and some clusters. Although this is unfortunate, it is not a surprise due to the high levels of community transmission,” said Karen Ayala, director of the DuPage County Health Department, which is not making that data public.

Read more here.

Related:Some elementary students are back in class, and suburban districts are weighing what can come next

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Ellie Luciano adjusts her backpack while keeping a physical distance form her peers at Wiesbrook Elementary in Wheaton

A bellwether for school reopening efforts in the pandemic, elementary classrooms in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 welcomed back students two weeks ago for the first time in more than 170 days.

As of Tuesday, the district has reported at least four students and one employee have tested positive for the coronavirus. But the district hasn’t identified any close contacts with those cases across the 13 elementary schools. Administrators credit physical distancing measures for helping to thwart the spread of the virus.

After months of enormous challenges preparing for an in-person start, the district still faces the complicated task of keeping the doors open in elementary schools. It’s also one of the major suburban districts pushing for at least a mix of face-to-face and virtual learning for middle and high school students.

Elmhurst Unit District 205 is providing another template, gradually sending students back to schools. On Monday, elementary students moved to a hybrid schedule. Sixth and ninth grades will follow suit Sept. 21. Populations of students with special needs also are now receiving on-campus instruction.

Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300’s school board will vote next Tuesday on the district’s learning plan for the second quarter.

District 300 originally had planned on starting the year in-person but switched to remote learning. Now the administration recommends moving elementary, middle and high schools to a hybrid schedule for the second quarter beginning Oct. 13.

Read more here.

Editorial notes: During last night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Brian Harris gave no date for reopening 220 schools even at a hybrid level much to the frustration of parents and students who spoke during the meeting.  

One could sense the frustration on the part of board members, but all Harris seemed to want to do was talk about metrics, doing more surveys and fumble with his PowerPoint slides. Meanwhile, only 80% of teachers and staff are willing to work on 220 property while the rest work elsewhere.

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Demonstrators hold signs along Harnish Road Tuesday during a rally for the reopening for in-person learning at the Algonquin-based Community Community Unit District 300 Central Office in Algqonquin. (Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media)

Saying that remote learning has not been successful, a group of concerned parents and students from Algonquin-based Community Community Unit District 300 rallied outside the Center Office asking district officials to reopen to in-person learning.

District 300 has been remote since the beginning of the year because of COVID-19.

Several speakers at the rally said they were worried for children’s mental health and the social isolation they might feel from not seeing their friends.

One Algonquin resident, Sharon Vandermeir, said her grandchild, in kindergarten, is not learning anything.

“She gets distracted easily, she’s bored, she doesn’t like to sit in front of a computer for six hours a day,” Vandermeir said. “The kids need an education, and Zoom is not an education.”

Read more here.

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Westminster Christian School in Elgin

Parochial schools across the suburbs are resuming classes either fully in-person or with hybrid instructional models even as most Illinois public schools begin the school year with remote learning.

They’re making the transition with temperature checks, face masks, social distancing, an abundance of hand sanitizers and other safety measures required by state education and health authorities, coupled with smaller class sizes, virtual learning platforms and one-to-one technology.

“What we are able to do that the public schools can’t do is meet our community and our students where they are,” said Erik Schwartz, high school principal of Westminster Christian School in Elgin which started classes Thursday. “The public school (system) is too expansive. They’ve got to make policies that fit the entire state or entire district, whereas we get to make policies that are for our school and for our community.”

Under a flexible hybrid model, a majority of Westminster Christian’s 260 students in preschool through 12th grade attend classes in person while roughly 20 students synchronously learn from home. Class sizes are between 15 and 20 students, and students can switch between in-person and remote instruction for health reasons or due to other circumstances. In school, students must wear masks regardless of distancing except when eating or excused with a doctor’s note.

Read more here.

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Hundreds of thousands of suburban children are resuming schoolwork within the next few weeks, but this year fewer than 6,200 of them will go back to their classrooms full time.

Only 9 of 105 suburban districts are offering “in-person” learning, the Illinois State Board of Education reports.

Another 30 of the suburban school districts will open with a “blended” model, where students are split into two groups and alternate between remote learning and in-class sessions.

The remaining 66 suburban school districts will have full-time remote learning, with kids having classes exclusively online.

Those opening for in-person learning are:

  • Butler Elementary District 53 in Oak Brook
  • Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89
  • Grass Lake Elementary District 36 in Antioch
  • Itasca Elementary District 10
  • Medinah Elementary District 11
  • Rondout Elementary District 72 in Lake Forest
  • Roselle Elementary District 12
  • Rosemont Elementary District 78, and
  • West Northfield Elementary District 31 in Northbrook

Read more from the Daily Herald here,

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