By Joe Boyle
Community High School District 218 is planning a return to in-person instruction after beginning the school year with remote learning last month.
Dr. Ty Harting, superintendent of District 218, addressed this issue in a letter he sent to parents this week. District 218 includes Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Shepard High School in Palos Heights, and Eisenhower High School in Blue Island.
"The good news is that positivity rates for COVID-19 in our district have decreased gradually — but consistently — for the last three to four weeks, to a level that has made it reasonable to consider a measured approach to allow students to return in person," Harting wrote. "I know that many students and parents desperately want to return to in-person instruction."
Harting also mentioned that not everyone is on board with the idea of returning to the classrooms.
"It is also true that many students and parents do not want to return and would remain in remote instruction," Harting said. "Those students will still be able to stay in remote instruction."
District 218 officials at first decided on remote learning as Harting shared those plans on Aug. 25. At that time, remote learning was extended for both the state and several communities that had seen an uptick in both COVID-19 cases and positivity rates. Harting said last month that the Phase 1 Remote Learning Plan would continue until conditions are safe enough to allow large numbers of students into the buildings.
But some changes soon took place. On Sept. 8, students no longer had to adhere to an A/B schedule in which they attended classes every other day. Instead, students were allowed to be in their Zoom classes four days a week instead of two.
Harting said he was encouraged by the fact that five high school districts — District 230, Evergreen Park High School, Lemont, Lincoln-Way and Lockport — are either reopening this week or will in the next few weeks.
"We freely acknowledge that this is not an easy time for anyone and these are not easy decisions," Harting said. "We are encouraged, however, by some additional data that causes us to lean to returning to a blended model."
The superintendent acknowledged that there have been some cases across the district, but the numbers have been few. Safety protocols have been followed, Harting said, and individuals who have tested positive have been sent home to quarantine before later returning to work.
Due to the latest figures, Harting said the district can enter into Phase 2 of the Return to School Plan. The superintendent said that the present format will continue until Oct. 15 and 16 when at that time freshmen only will return at 50 percent capacity using the A/B schedule.
On Monday, Oct. 19, all grade levels will return at 50 percent beginning with Group A, Harting said. He added that this is all predicated on conditions remaining stable or improving over the next few weeks.
"We are excited to welcome students back into our schools," Harting said. "Such a return must be done responsibly, however. We are going to insist that students and staff faithfully follow the safety protocols in place, especially the protocols of maintaining social distance and the wearing of a mask. When we do so, we dramatically reduce the level of risk for everyone."
Harting said that if everyone proceeds with caution, in-person instruction can resume in District 218.
"We have an excellent safety plan in place," Harting said. "But it only works if we are all in this together.