School reopening update highlights District 231 meeting

District 231 Superintendent Jason Harper addresses board members during the October meeting Tuesday evening. During the meeting, Harper updated board members on how students, staff and parents are adjusting to the district's hybrid school reopening plan, which combines in-person and remote learning. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Superintendent Harper discusses upcoming plans for local schools

ROCHELLE — Rochelle Superintendent Jason Harper updated the District 231 Board of Education on the district’s school reopening plan during the October board meeting Tuesday.

Harper said the district has not had any major issues arise since beginning its hybrid learning model at the start of the 2020-21 school year. With the first trimester nearly over, Harper said the district is focusing its attention to the second trimester, which begins Nov. 16. 

“When we pitched what our reopening plan would look like, we wanted parents to make a choice for the first trimester,” Harper said. “The second trimester is coming… We’re back at a point where we need to have a good idea of how many students will be back in the buildings and in the classrooms for the second trimester. We’ve already initiated the process of trying to obtain that feedback, and both teachers and administrators are working with parents.”

Harper said that recent parent-teacher conferences have helped provide the district with feedback on how both remote and in-person learning are going for elementary and middle-school students. Harper also said the district plans to have an idea of how many students will be back in schools on Oct. 23, which is the deadline for decisions about returning to school.

“We hope to have a very good idea of how many students will be back by Oct. 23 or sooner,” Harper said. “We’d prefer to keep our five-day-a-week model, and if that means we have to tweak some of our staff or move furniture around at some of our locations, then we’d like to do that. One of the most unanimous pieces of feedback we’ve received from our parents is that they like the five-day-a-week schedule. We’ve been communicating with our parents that we need their decisions as soon as possible and we’ve communicated our deadline.”

Harper also discussed the idea of holding practice days for teachers, parents and students to become acclimated with remote learning. The Illinois State Board of Education allows districts to have five days during the 2020-21 school year that are specifically designated for remote learning. Harper said the district has already used three of its five remote learning days.

“The positives would be that all students and staff would get some experience with remote learning,” Harper said. “Our parents would also see what it’s like to be a remote learner, so if we were to temporarily move the district to remote learning or have a longer closure, there would be some context. The downside is that there would be another day that parents would have to figure out supervision for their students. I’m not pushing incredibly hard for this, but I wanted to bring this to the board’s attention and get feedback from teachers and parents.”

Bonds

Prior to the school reopening update, board members approved a resolution for the issue of an amount not exceeding $5.85 million in general obligation school bonds for refunding certain outstanding bonds of the district and increasing the district’s Working Cash Fund.

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