Dear District 86 Community,
I want to thank those of you who shared comments, questions and feedback in response to the email about grading e-learning assignments that Principal Walsh and Principal Pokorny Lyp sent yesterday (March 18). I also want to share some additional information, insight and perspective on this issue that I hope will further clarify the decision we have made.
At the time that schools here in Illinois were forced to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a number of them did not have e-learning plans in place. In fact, some were still assessing and discussing whether online learning was even a feasible or realistic option for them. However, with the virus spreading and a shutdown looming, the state encouraged all districts to move to a virtual model for instruction to help ensure that students would remain engaged in learning until the crisis was over and it was safe to return to class.
Those districts that did not have an existing e-learning plan in place had to scramble to pull something together in an incredibly short period of time. To aid this process, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) waived many of the formal steps and legal requirements that guide the creation and implementation of such plans. Due to the truncated timeline and process, and because there was a hope/belief that schools would only be closed for a short period of time, the state initially directed districts not to grade any work completed in conjunction with e-learning. It has since changed its position on this issue to the following:
Student work completed during the mandated statewide school closure must not negatively impact a student’s grades or otherwise impact a student’s academic standing. As we do not yet know the full extent of the closure and want to minimize any negative effects on students, schools may allow student work to count during the closure only to increase a student’s academic standing. Our students may be experiencing varying mental and physical health challenges at this time and may have very different access to supports and technology at home. Our goal is that no student is negatively impacted by the closure and that no school district’s policies or procedures should widen the equity gap.
It is also important to remember that some districts do not have access to the resources that are necessary to even offer e-learning or do so with fidelity. Given the challenges and the complexity of the issues at play in this situation, the state wants to minimize the potential impact that less than ideal conditions for instruction may have on the hard work students have put in and achievements they have earned during the first seven or eight months of the school year.
In District 86, we are fortunate to have an amazing group of teachers and instructional leaders who had the time and opportunity to create a robust e-learning plan that aligns with the outstanding in-person instruction our students receive on a daily basis. With that said, the intent of remote learning, which is what we are utilizing while our schools are closed, was never meant to serve as a long-term replacement for what our students experience in our classrooms. Its true purpose was to provide an alternative to traditional emergency days, and help ensure that we could maintain a continuum of learning if classes had to be canceled for a short period of time due to issues such as inclement weather. Unfortunately, we, like many school districts, have had to adjust our plans to cover an extended period of time.
While there are varying opinions about how long the closure may last, we must operate under the guidelines and parameters set forth by the state. Under these guidelines and parameters, schools are scheduled to reopen on March 31. In our case, classes would be back in session on April 6 following spring break. The state’s short-term approach to this situation is a product of the unpredictability of the virus. That is why districts like ours, New Trier (
) and Downers Grove (
) have chosen not to issue grades for the work that is done during this time. Instead, our focus is on making sure that there is a continuity of learning for all students that will enable them to make a smooth and seamless transition back into the classroom when in-person instruction resumes. Having our students complete their assignments on time and to the very best of their ability will help ensure the success of these efforts. With that said, we fully understand that this crisis may extend beyond spring break, and are working to alter our plans so that we can effectively address how a prolonged closure may impact instruction (e.g., grades, state assessments, AP exams, etc.) and operations (e.g., food service, technology, construction, etc.).
I completely understand and empathize with the frustration many of you are feeling in the face of so much uncertainty. It cannot be easy to have virtually every aspect of your lives turned upside down by something that is so frightening and impossible to predict or control. However, I am imploring you to please be patient and trust the plan and process we have in place to see us through this difficult time.
Scores and grades will get figured out. Our focus right now needs to be on navigating these first two weeks of e-learning, and then adjusting our course of action based on whatever direction we receive from the state. The best things you can do to help us through this initial period are to:
- Remain engaged in e-learning. As I stated above, scores and grades will get figured out. In the interim, I ask that our students continue to participate in all aspects of our e-learning plan (e.g., attendance, completing assignments, etc.). Our teachers have invested a great deal of time, effort and energy to ensure that this experience is a positive and productive one for our learners. I ask that you please support and respect their efforts. I also ask that you please embrace the plan for what it is now (i.e., promoting a continuity of learning), and be assured that we are working to prepare for what it may need to become.
- Commit to social distancing. We have heard from several people that students continue to gather in large groups throughout the community. It is imperative that these types of mass gatherings cease immediately, and that everyone follow the guidance of local, state, national and international health organizations when it comes to social distancing.
- Engage in self-care on daily basis. Take a walk. Read a book. Rest your body and your mind. Do whatever you need to do to stay focused on what is truly most important…taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
As has been the case throughout this ordeal, the members of our team (e.g., teachers, support staff, administrators, etc.) are available to help and support you. Please continue to contact us if you have questions, need information or require assistance. In the meantime, we will keep you updated on any new developments regarding the COVID-19 crisis and their impact on our schools and community.
Take care and be well.