Woodstock School District 200 students are set to return at least part time to schools beginning Oct. 19, if COVID-19 metrics remain stable or on downward trend in McHenry County.
The school board on Tuesday unanimously approved the use of recommendations from the McHenry County Department of Health set to be finalized in coming days for deciding how to move between remote, in-person and hybrid learning models as the pandemic continues. Its decision to go hybrid, with some online learning from home and some in-person schooling, was supported by about three dozen people who held a rally outside Woodstock High School before the meeting, urging officials to reopen in-person learning. Almost all of them wore facial coverings, and several who were interviewed said they were desperate for their children to return to schools, and are OK with precautions such as requiring facial coverings and social distancing in schools.
“Let’s start moving forward,” said rally organizer Tyler Stiemke, the parent of a third-grader. He said he would like the district to provide an in-person option while giving families still concerned about the virus the choice to keep students at home. “When it comes to choice, to my kid’s mental and emotional ability, that’s where I put my foot down and say something has to change,” Stiemke said.
It will likely be the case, District 200 Superintendent Michael Moan told the board, that students will be able to continue fully remote education plans if their families choose. The board scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Sept. 29 for details on the hybrid learning plan to be presented.
“I feel a sense of urgency in the community to have a plan and I’m willing to come in and hear that plan and approve it or modify it,” board member Michelle Bidwell said.
The plan will not be identical to the hybrid model approved earlier this year, before the board pulled the plug on holding any in-person activity for the first quarter of the academic calendar, Moan said.
McHenry County as a whole has reached the health department’s recommended thresholds for a hybrid educational model, according to Northwest Herald reporting on the draft suggestions. But different districts could vary in their use of the metrics in decision-making.
Plus, if the countywide metrics show the area as a whole still is safe to continue with either hybrid learning models or move to fully in-person models, but a school experiences an uptick or outbreak of cases in a particular building or classroom, an individual school facility could move backward from in-person to hybrid learning, or from hybrid back to fully remote learning.
Other precautions short of moving away from more in-person instruction could be taken, too, such as isolating individual students or groups who may have been within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for the virus for 15 minutes or longer in a school or on a bus, district officials said.
“I think it is going to be a fluid situation,” Moan said. “That’s one of the downsides of using the metrics, is that it could change periodically.”
The metrics set to be put forward by the county health department for guiding schools include the total COVID-19 case count, the COVID-19 positivity rate, the incidence rate and recent hospital admissions in the county.
If two of the four metrics show a concerning rise in risk of community spread of the virus, districts will be recommended to move backward to either hybrid learning models if they are in-person, or back to fully remote models if they are at a hybrid stage.
Courtney Barker, who attended the rally and has a son in second grade, also is hoping for more social interaction through school for his student.
“Watching my son put on his backpack and walk around home, saying, ‘I want to go to school,’ it makes you want to cry. These kids are socially starving,” Barker said.
Ashley Starnes at the rally worried about the impact a hybrid learning model could have on families who are depending on older students to help with child care or the remote learning of younger siblings while their parents work during the day.
“I think it might be difficult. Their hours at work might not line up with school,” Starnes said.