Traveling teachers and face masks: Bourbonnais schools plan for fall 2020

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BESD53 called a special meeting Wednesday night to discuss what a reopening scenario would look like for fall 2020. Plans were put forth by the Board while awaiting guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

Among options proposed included changes in school year start times, the possibility of continued remote learning, and other alterations to the norm in the classroom.

“This is a big plan, and big decisions need to be made,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Margaret Longo said Wednesday. “We’ve done surveying and we’ll continue to survey.”

After early polling results from parents and teachers, BESD53 announced 50% of both groups preferred a start time after Labor Day, ending on June 4th. Holidays like Columbus Day and Veterans Day would be observed in school due to the condensing of the school year. Bradley Elementary and BBCHS are also looking at this plan as an option.

Changes within the schools themselves would include everything from social distancing measures to face masks, included portable sinks for classrooms. 

Additional alterations to the norm included changes in drop off procedures at schools, and teachers traveling between classrooms rather than students shifting throughout the school at higher grade levels.

Classrooms would have additional furniture removed to provide added square footage for distancing measures to take place, along with the installation of plexiglass shields for one-on-one instruction.

“Within the district office, we’ve implemented social distancing and we use masks when we are in common areas or we can’t distance six feet. We’ve intensified throughout the district our cleaning and disinfection efforts,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Longo. “We’ve started looking at classroom makeup procedures. We’re looking at modified drop-off and pickup procedures and looking at screening procedures for staff and children, should a child come in and tell us they don’t feel well.”

Students would potentially eat lunch inside the classrooms as well. The plan will utilize future guidelines brought forth by the ISBE, once the Illinois Department of Public Health has issued guidance.

“Unfortunately, we have people that tell us what we need to do,” said BESD53 President Rob Rodewald last night. “We need to have plans in place for ‘what if’ ISBE says ‘you have to have six-foot distance’ or ‘you have to have kids wearing masks.’ We have to be ready for that. So that’s really what this is all about, where do we go if we can’t be in school face-to-face with 20 kids in the classroom.” 

Technology changes

Alterations in tech could play a huge part in how students are taught in fall 2020.

Kari Moulton, Educational Technology Coach at BESD53, demoed new technology that the School District may be adopted soon for remote learning in Bourbonnais schools during Wednesday night’s meeting. In addition to ZOOM platforms, the District is including incorporating a unit called Swivl into classrooms.  

Swivl is a tracking system that monitors the movement of a teacher throughout a classroom while wearing a special monitoring device around the neck. Each unit is around $720 apiece and allows an extra layer of engagement to allow students forced to quarantine at home to emerge in a virtual learning experience.   

 “It’s very varietal and it’s super easy to use. The other thing about it is you can record a session, so I can record a lesson and then I get a link and I could email that link to parents of students that are at home and so they have that direct instruction, just a little bit easier,” said Moulton during the remote demonstration.

The units would have additional uses outside of the COVID-19 crisis that will allow them to be used elsewhere within the school system.  

“We showed this technology to our OT and PT staff and they were super excited about being able to, once they have students back in session, they can actually record a physical therapy session with a student and share that with the parent.” Assistant Superintendent Dr. James Duggan said. “Through the video, they can demonstrate exactly what they’re working on.”

Duggan estimates the District would utilize anywhere from 15 to 37 Swivls to be strategically placed throughout BESD53.

“If the teachers are on the same pace, even if a student, in theory, was a second-grader at Shabbona, they could Zoom into a class at another building. We have to work out those details. But that would avoid not having to have one in every building.” Dr. Duggan says.

Guidance on Masks

Students around the world, including Finland, Norway, Israel, Denmark, and Germany have returned to a school requiring face coverings along with social distancing standards when school resumes. Illinois is expected to adopt such rules if in-person teaching returns this fall.

“Face covering and distancing, if they’re the norm, we know that six-foot distancing in our classrooms is probably not possible. Our law firm said that the ISBE may say that we have to have face coverings. So we’ve been ordering that to have it.” Dr. Longo announced. Dr. Longo said the district currently has around three months’ worth of masks.  

Parents asked during the meeting if they could refuse to have their child not wear a mask if they’re required by the school district.

“According to our attorneys, that’s considered a uniform violation, so it’s required, although we don’t know if it’s going to be.” Dr. Longo said. “We were in a legal seminar last Thursday with our law firm and we have not gotten guidance, we expect to get that reviled by the Illinois Department of Public Health and also through the ISBE. We don’t know if that’s a mandate.”

The district would allow children to be provided with their masks from home. BESD53 has discussed children with disabilities already. “We would have the teacher wearing a mask to keep the child safe.” Dr. Longo said.

Addressing COVID-19 fears with children 

“There’s going to be fears. We know there’s going to be fears for our children coming back.” Dr. Longo said Wednesday night. “They suddenly stopped education on March 16th, left, went home with their families. Their families took care of them, but the idea that they’re entering the building again. So we’re looking at strategies to help kids with mindfulness and help them become empowered and in control of themselves in a situation that might be scary for them.”

One of those strategies in mental health for children across the district would be assigning a point person in each building throughout the District to work alongside the Principle that would be a teacher.

“We think really that it helps keep the pulse on teaching and learning and social emotional well being, not only for ourselves but for our children.” Dr. Longo added. Parents would be regularly surveyed on how the school system is doing for additional feedback.

The plan put forth by BESD53 are fluid and could change once formal guidance is issued by agencies in Illinois.

Shane Saathoff
Shane Saathoffhttp://www.SocialSnowball.com
An active writer for two decades, Shane's focuses on local news and events throughout the area, Shane is an active historian, science nerd, and tech geek. Shane is a native of Bourbonnais, IL, and alumni of Olivet Nazarene University.

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