Most Schools Going Virtual In Chicago Area, With Some Exceptions

Only a quarter of students nationwide will attend daily in-person school, a survey shows. Illinois districts are split.

By Shannon Antinori, Patch Staff
 | Updated 
Seven-year-old Hamza Haqqani uses a computer to participate in an e-learning class with his teacher and classmates while at his home in Bartlett, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

ILLINOIS — More than half of American K-12 public school students won’t be going back to the classroom so far this school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an ongoing survey that looked at thousands of school calendars nationwide.

About half of Illinois students are poised to return to schools in person this month or next, according to Chalkbeat. The state is fairly split by region, with most school districts in the Chicago area planning full remote learning, while students in the rest of the state are set to return to class in person. Several districts in the Chicago area are also offering a hybrid or blended schedule mixing in-person and remote learning.

Some of the largest districts in the state will start the year fully remote, including Chicago Public Schools, Elgin School District U-46, Joliet Public Schools District 86 and Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, where the school board initially failed to pass an all-remote plan but later approved an amended version of the plan.

Other Illinois districts are reopening virtually with plans for in-person classes in the near future. District 218 Community High School students will return to classes remotely in August, with plans to return to the classroom after Labor Day.

Some districts that originally planned to offer parents a choice between in-person and remote learning have since reversed their decision and gone entirely remote. Others that planned to fully reopen have since reversed their decisions, opting for remote e-learning instead.

Other districts that originally planned to offer in-person learning have also flip flopped, citing Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines they say make it “virtually impossible” to have in-person learning.

Meanwhile, many private schools — including Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago — are planning to fully reopen. In the suburbs, one Christian school — targeted in a lawsuit filed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker — is fully reopening, noting that masks are “optional.” Joliet Catholic Academy, meanwhile, is offering a “hybrid” of four days of in-person instruction and one day of e-learning per week.

 

In some districts, Illinois parents have expressed a preference for in-person learning — or at least having some in-person learning. In one district that’s offering choice, nearly 4,000 students are set to return to school buildings five days a week for about two hours at a time. So far, more than four out of five North Shore School District 112 families given the option have opted into classroom instruction in the fall, according to district officials.

In late June, a Patch survey of parents also showed that while moms and dads remain wary, most of those who responded were in favor of opening schools for in-person learning with mask requirements.

 

An agonizing decision

Districts across the nation have been debating whether to open schools and, if so, how. And parents have been agonizing over whether to send their kids if and when schools do open.

The Burbio.com study shows 52 percent of students across the country are going to begin the 2020-2021 school year online, while 44 percent will attend some form of in-person learning in the fall, and 4 percent of school districts remain undecided as of Aug. 11.

“What we found was similar regions across the country were doing similar things,” Dennis Roche, president and co-founder of the Pelham, New York-based Burbio.com, told Patch.

“A lot of big cities flipped about a week-and-a-half ago,” Roche said, specifically mentioning decisions made to go fully remote in Chicago and Pittsburgh. “And then in places the size of Bergen County, New Jersey… they are all hybrid.”
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See Also: How Will School Look In A Pandemic? Like A Hot Mess, Many Say.
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The Burbio study looked at more than 80,000 K-12 school calendars across 12,000 school districts, actively monitored more than 35,000 schools, and reviewed district plans every 72 hours to account for changes. See the survey’s full methodology here.

Of the 200 largest school districts across the country, the survey found that 66 percent will be going all virtual. The smaller the school district, trends show, the more likely it is that students will be headed back to the classroom.

“The more communication there is between the teachers, the board and the parents is where they seem to be getting back into school,” Roche said, pointing to a map that shows how often students in each county are going to be in school.

Among the 44 percent of students nationwide that will have in-person schooling, 25 percent will go to school daily to start the year while 19 percent will participate in some form of hybrid model that combines learning in school and at home.

Roche said the number of districts going virtual “could slip a little higher” than the 52 percent it stood at on Aug. 11. “We aren’t seeing any schools that were going to be virtual switching to in-person,” he said.

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