Three weeks into the new school year and just over a month after deciding in favor of fully virtual instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Peoria Public Schools have started to consider bringing some students back to the classroom.
During Monday night’s District 150 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat detailed a proposal to transition early learners and self-contained special education students back to in-person learning by the end of October.
“The idea is we would monitor that advancement of kindergarteners, first graders, and our special ed students for successful implementation,” said Kherat. “Then, with successful implementation, additional grade levels for in-person will be considered through an ongoing phased-in approach based again on successful implementation of each stage.”
The initial proposal called for kindergarten and first grade students to return. Board member Dan Walther suggested expanding that to include grades 2-through-4, but members Martha Ross and Lynne Costic felt more comfortable with just the younger students.
“Maybe we are trending down because the kids are not in school and the teachers are not here,” said Ross. “I just want us to make sure that we go slow and do what you had initially started and then phase everything else.”
Citing EAB (formerly the Education Advisory Board) research, the presentation indicated virtual instruction would likely result in learning loss for nearly all students, with expected declines in reading and math scores. The recommendation suggests young learners and students with special needs should be the first to return to the classrooms.
“It makes sense that the youngest ones and those with special needs are the first ones to come on board,” said Kherat. “The youngest ones, that kindergarteners and the first graders, they need so much support and support even with the fundamentals.”
Kherat identified EAB benchmark figures for bringing some students back to schools: between 50-150 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in a region, and a targeted positivity rate of 5% or less. As of Friday, Peoria County had a seven-day positivity rate of 5.2% (after dipping below 5% before Labor Day) and 134 new cases per 100,000 people over one week.
“When we decided to go to remote, the positivity rate was at about 6.6% and cases were at about 152 per 100,000,” said Kherat. “So, as a community, we’ve done a very, very nice job. And at the time this plan was actually drafted, we were at about 4.8% positivity and on the cases were slightly lower. But it’s understandable that there's going to be ebbs and flows.”
Kherat’s original proposal called for returning these students to class on Oct. 26, at the midway point of the fall semester. But board members asked her to see if that date could be moved earlier.
All K-1 families would be asked to choose between virtual and in-person learning. Students would alternate attendance days according the original A/B hybrid plan, and a three-tier scheduling model would have the 5½-hour sessions beginning at either 7:30, 8:30 or 9:30 a.m.
“It’s essentially utilizing our hybrid plan and our hybrid model, just that it’s not K-12,” said Kherat.
She said the district will need to discuss the plan with the Peoria Federation of Teachers Local 780 before it is implemented. The administration’s timeline also seeks preference confirmation from families and continuing communication with the board.
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