RANTOUL — Parents of students attending Rantoul City Schools will have a choice of how their children learn during the fall semester.
They will choose between the BlendEd Academy setup in which students attend part of a school day two days a week or Learn Academy in which they take classes entirely online at home. Another choice is to opt out — the child will be withdrawn from school, and the parents are in charge of their child’s education. That means no internet learning device or food service from RCS.
Superintendent Michelle Ramage credited teachers and staff for their work arranging the set-up, which she said is a great deal more work than an all in-person teaching arrangement.
“Watching the teachers do this work, this could not be done if we didn’t have the teachers that we have,” Ramage said. “They have come forward and made this possible.”
Ramage said the teachers involved run the gamut from ones who “are relatively new to teaching to some who are a year or two away from retiring.”
The RCS board approved the arrangement 6-0 with board member Andy Graham, who viewed the proceedings remotely, abstaining because he was having trouble receiving the feed via Facebook.
Teachers put together a video presentation that included the academic portion of what the learning would look like. The platforms are being created by the teachers, which include some imbedded platforms from currently used curriculum. Ramage said the preparation has been ongoing since April.
There will be masks and social distancing, sanitizing facilities and all the other things necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic that does not appear to be going away any time soon.
The BlendEd Academy arrangement splits students into A Day and B Day groups. Each student will attend two days of classes for four hours in the morning. A Day students attend Tuesdays and Thursdays, while B Day students are in class Wednesdays and Fridays. All students are required to have at least five hours of instruction a day, so they will do additional hour of work at home in the afternoon in a variety of subjects ranging from PE to music to art online as well as some additional core work.
Ramage said students won’t be taught more than four hours in school because “four hours is a very long time for people to wear masks. For children, it can be exceptionally hard. It is also necessary to allow time for teachers to work with those at home as well as the extra time it takes to clean the buildings.”
If a child refuses to wear a mask, the school will work with the family to provide interventions. If those are not successful, he or she will have to go to all-remote learning.
The days when students are not at school, they will learn remotely.
There will be no Monday classes.
“That’s because it takes a lot of extra planning and collaborating with the teachers,” Ramage said, and that day will be used for planning, professional development and working with students remotely.
The days are scheduled in this manner to align with Rantoul Township High School scheduling.
Students will receive letter grades.
Starting July 21, phone calls will be made to every home to determine which learning method a family prefers, and they will be told whether their student is an A Day or B Day student. Parents will be given until Aug. 1 to decide which method they want their children to learn under. Ramage said RCS will be flexible. If a family has an RTHS student who is an A Day student and one who is an elementary student, they will try to assign the student an A Day schedule if the BlendEd Academy method is chosen. Also, if the parents need to change to the opposite day for childcare needs, they can do so. But that deadline is also Aug. 1.
Those families who choose an all-remote method will be required to do that the entire semester. If they want to change to the BlendEd Academy method for the second semester, they must indicate that by Dec. 1.
“If you are in BlendEd Learning and your family decides it’s not safe, you can go to the all-remote learning (Learn Academy),” at any time, Ramage said.
Aug. 13 and 14, which had originally been scheduled as the first days of school, will now be in-person parent-teacher-student conference time when all questions will be answered.
RCS will abide by the 6-foot social distancing requirement. Hallways will be marked so students can get a visual idea how far 6 feet away is. Hand dryers and water fountains are turned off. Six-foot distancing markers have been set up in bathrooms. School facilities will be sanitized when students are not in class.
Some teachers might want to hold their classes outdoors when the weather permits.
“We are also encouraging teachers and students to take mask breaks,” Ramage said. “If they can go outside and take off their mask for just two or three minutes as long as they are more than 6 feet apart,” it would be a relief.
Ramage said students might have to build up to wearing a mask. Perhaps initially they will be required to wear one for an hour before getting a break.
“There are some rare situations where they can wear face shields,” she said. “But shields don’t protect the student and those around them” as well as a face mask, Ramage said. Those are determined on a case-by-case basis and likely only for special-needs students.
Social distancing will also be observed on buses, where students will be at least 5 feet apart. That will allow only 12 students on a bus that can hold 70. Trying to determine bus routes and having enough buses available is a work in progress.
The school district will buy all at-school supplies for students because parents will also have to buy their own supplies for home use.
All students will be equipped with Chromebooks. And those families that don’t have home internet will receive hotspots to provide it.
There were parent questions presented at the meeting.
One parent of three children asked if parents can’t be home with the children during school, are educators confident students will be able to use the equipment needed.
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Frerichs said the students already know how to use Chromebooks in school.
There will also be training for parents and students, and a tech team will be available for questions. Tutorials will also be available on the RCS website.
A parent asked if five half-days a week of in-school instruction was considered such as St. Joseph is doing because the BlendEd and Learning arrangements would be a struggle for working parents. Ramage said RCS considered a number of scenarios, including that one, but social distancing and busing would not work with five-day attendance.
“And it becomes too long of a day for teachers,” Ramage said. “The cleaning part is an issue, too, to be able to effectively clean.”
Regarding a concern that some students might lag behind, Ramage said there will be regular communication in that regard. Some lessons can be individualized to meet the children’s needs just as they are normally, Ramage said.
Asked if students’ temperature will be taken before they get on the bus, Ramage said no. It will be the responsibility of the parent to take the temperature before the student leaves home, and temps will be taken before students enter school. If temps were taken before a student entered a bus, there would be no place for that student to go.
“We cannot leave the child behind at a bus stop,” Ramage said.
If a child has a temp before entering school, he or she will go to an isolation room overseen by someone with personal protective equipment, and a parent will be called. If no parent is available to pick up the child, the student will have to remain at the school, the same way illnesses cases were handled before the pandemic.
“Obviously, the sooner the child goes home, the safer it is for the school,” Ramage said. “School is closed in the afternoons, and the child cannot ride the bus home.”
Martha Gonzalez, director of Multicultural Community Center, asked that Rantoul City Schools provide busing for all of the center’s childcare students to her building because the center cannot afford to do it. She also won’t allow RCS to-go meals in her building because the center makes homemade lunches and gets reimbursement from the Illinois State Board of Education as does RCS.
Most of the community feedback, she said, has been positive, and added, “I encourage the community to wrap around each other and provide support.”