News from CCSD15

August 3, 2020

School Year Planning Update

Dear District 15 Parents/Guardians:

I know many of you are aware that a number of local Districts including Arlington Heights 25, Barrington 220, Wheeling 21 and Elk Grove 59 have announced that their school years will begin virtually, and that this is causing uncertainty for families who elected in-person instruction in District 15 schools this fall. Today, I want to provide you an update to our Return to Learn plan.

On Monday, July 20, parents were asked to select either in-person instruction or placement in a virtual learning classroom for the first trimester or semester (depending on the grade level) with the understanding that plans could likely change at any time based upon the fluidity and unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time we asked for patience as we tackled re-sectioning thousands of students, reviewing staff requests for workplace accommodations, implemented building safety protocols outlined in our Return to Learn plan among other critical operational tasks needing attention prior to the start of the year. I truly thank those of you who have been supportive and understanding surrounding the enormity of this task for a large and diverse District such as ours. To say none of this has been easy is truly an understatement, but we remain determined to find a way to safely educate every student -- every day.

For a number of compelling reasons outlined later in this letter, we have come to the conclusion that in order to provide the safest environment possible to reopen our schools for students and staff, we must shift away from our original reopening plans, and start the year with virtual instruction for all students and implement a gradual re-entry to in-person instruction for those who elected to come back to school in-person.

Modified Reopening Calendar

Because we still strongly believe nothing can replace the power of face-to-face instruction with staff and students together in their schools and classrooms, it remains our goal to begin a rolling re-entry to in-person instruction beginning the week of Tuesday, Sept. 8, and continuing through the first quarter, which ends Friday, Oct. 9. The modified reopening calendar allows us to slowly reintroduce staff and students to their school/classrooms, build rapport, and ensure all learners and staff feel comfortable with the new health and safety procedures at our schools.

The modified schedule is as follows:

  • Monday, Aug. 17: Teacher Virtual Learning Plan Day (former first day of school)

  • Tuesday, Aug. 18: Teacher Virtual Learning Plan Day

  • Wednesday, Aug. 19: REVISED First Day of School

  • Wednesday, Aug. 19: Friday, Sept. 4: Virtual Instruction Continues for all D15 Students

The order of re-entry was developed based upon Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) guidelines placing a priority for in-person instruction for at-risk populations and primary grade levels. Doing so allows us to deliver on Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals and provide integration opportunities for English Language learners, while also supporting our youngest learners who are developmentally less able to engage and learn in a virtual setting without significant adult support from home.

That said, please be aware that although this is our intent, this schedule may change based upon a variety of factors we are closely monitoring, such as:

  • COVID-19 positivity rates across District 15 zip codes;

  • Staffing accommodations and concerns about returning to work; and

  • Our ability to find substitute teachers and other support staff members prepared to work during a pandemic.

More information on these factors is outlined later in this communication.

New Tentative Calendar Dates for Re-Entry to In-Person Instruction

  • Monday, Sept. 7: Labor Day holiday (District closed, no student attendance)

  • Tuesday, Sept. 8: Bilingual Full-day Kindergarten and Kindergarten

  • Monday, Sept. 14: Special Education Self-Contained Programs

    • Transitional Bilingual Programs at CR, GMS, JA, KH, LL, LS, SRP, VL, WCE, FCW, PH and WB return to daily in-person instruction in some capacity. More details will be provided by each school in the coming days.

  • Monday, Sept. 21: Grades 1-2

  • Monday, Sept. 28: Grades 3 and 4

  • Monday, Oct. 5: Grades 5 and 6 and ECDEC across all sites

  • Tuesday, Oct. 13: Junior High will return in a hybrid capacity after the first quarter ends

Virtual Learning Classrooms (for those who opted out of in-person instruction)

Students who have enrolled in the Virtual Learning Classrooms (VLC) will continue in a virtual setting during the rolling re-entry period with no change to their placement or calendar.

Junior High Schedule Changes

Our enrollment numbers reflect more elementary families opting out of in-person instruction creating smaller class sizes for our younger students, but the same was not true across our junior highs. To create smaller sections and allow for greater social distancing, we will need to develop a hybrid model for our junior high students when they return to in-person instruction at the first quarter of the school year.

Schedules will be created to offer students a synchronous and asynchronous learning model where they will come to school on assigned days and learn remotely on others. More information on what a hybrid schedule will look like will be shared with you in the coming weeks. Once finalized, we will begin to bring back our junior high students in a reduced capacity. As with everything we are planning, this is contingent upon COVID-19 data, staffing resources and current state guidelines. We will keep parents informed as soon as we have more information.

Rationale for Change

Shifting from our two instructional choices of in-person or virtual learning is something I struggled with mightily. The decision to start in a remote manner was made with some reluctance, because in-person instruction -- in our pre-pandemic world -- best supports the academic and social-emotional growth of our students as shared by the American Pediatric Association (APA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), but I must also acknowledge concerns expressed by both staff and parents about our ability to safely open schools in a manner where staff feel safe and confident in their ability to educate students with COVID-19 dictating so many changes to instructional practices and school routines. Please know I absolutely understand the implications this decision will have for working parents. As a working parent myself, I understand these challenges first hand.

To better explain our decision to switch to a remote start with a gradual re-entry, I’d like to recap the current reality here in our District 15 community:

  • Approximately 8,000 District 15 students elected in-person instruction and 4,000 chose virtual learning. Opt-out numbers have helped reduce class sizes, but despite one-third of our students selecting a virtual classroom, these numbers are not evenly distributed across schools or grade levels. We are working on re-sectioning students and utilizing all available space within our buildings to keep class size numbers below Board of Education targets, ranging from approximately 13-19 students per class.

  • To adhere to ISBE and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) guidelines, we have posted many new positions for custodial, clerical and supervisory roles. Additional teacher positions have been posted to staff for both in-person and virtual instructional pathways. Many of these positions remain unfilled with only two weeks until the first day of school.

  • Many teachers who previously anticipated returning to work in-person now have submitted staffing accommodation requests for childcare concerns. This is due to several surrounding districts announcing remote-only or hybrid options that will make childcare for their children challenging.

  • Another reality is the diminished availability of substitute teachers who serve our community. While not unique to District 15, having a viable sub pool during COVID-19, where the likelihood of prolonged staff absences is much higher, is a critical factor. We surveyed our substitute teacher pool this summer to see how many would be comfortable returning to our schools this fall. Many have expressed an unwillingness to substitute in-person as school reopens.

  • We continue to monitor COVID-19 positivity rates in Cook County and within District 15 boundaries. Some of our District 15 zip codes are currently above or near the 8-percent threshold identified as a warning level by the state.

    • 60010 (Hoffman Estates/Inverness): 4.6%

    • 60004 (Arlington Heights): 3.8%

    • 60067 (W. Palatine): 4.2%

    • 60005 (Arlington Heights):4.7%

    • 60008 (Rolling Meadows): 7.8%

    • 60173 (Schaumburg): 8.9%

    • 60074 (NE Palatine): 10.2%

Virtual Learning Plan Days

To support the shift to virtual instruction to start the school year, we will be using two of five ISBE-granted eLearning plan days on Monday, August 17, and Tuesday, August 18, to provide additional technology-driven professional development for teachers as we start a school year unlike any other. This means the first day of school will now be Wednesday, August 19 (virtual learning for all students).

An Enhanced Remote School Day

Our new Director of Instructional Technology Janice Mattheis and members of her department have been hard at work since they began on July 1 building a viable and guaranteed virtual experience that will look and feel vastly different than it did during emergency closures in the spring.

  • Virtual Learning will provide a full instructional day for students in 1st through 8th grades with the recommended minimum of 2.5 hours of live instruction (varying by grade level) and live interaction between teachers and students daily. The remainder of the day will be in an asynchronous environment with about 2.5 hours of independent or group work. Please see the virtual learning plan here (English/Spanish)

  • Early childhood and half-day kindergarten students have a 2.5 hour school day with approximately half of that being live interaction between teachers and students.

  • Direct live instruction will take place during regularly scheduled school hours for all students.

A full presentation will be shared during our Aug. 11 Board of Education meeting by Instructional Technology Director Mattheis and members of the technology subgroup committee.

In Closing

While I know this news will elicit support from some and profound disappointment from others, this shift allows us to continue preparing as thoughtfully and carefully as possible for what we want to be a safe and gradual reopening of schools for our 8,000 in-person learners. We believe that a remote start will also allow us to implement new safety protocols, refine staffing needs and continue monitoring health data before welcoming students who elected in-person learning back to the classroom.

I appreciate your continued understanding, collaboration and flexibility as we move forward with this uncertain school year. As I’ve said before, you have my commitment that I will keep the best interests of students and staff at the forefront of all decision making in District 15, and will always inform you of new information as soon as it is available.

Your partner in education,

Dr. Laurie Heinz

Superintendent of Schools

Modified Reopening Plan FAQs

Please note this FAQ is under construction and is subject to change.