URBANA — After teachers and parents spoke overwhelmingly against a proposed hybrid learning plan for the second quarter, Urbana Superintendent Jennifer Ivory- Tatum said the district wouldn’t pursue it until next semester.
Instead, Ivory-Tatum said at Tuesday’s school board meeting that an emergency ruling from the Illinois State Board of Education will allow the district to use unlicensed professionals to help students struggling with remote learning.
“We’re now able to use TAs and support staff to assist and supervise students in the school, learning from a remote teacher, provided there is a licensed staff member in the building designated as their supervisor,” Ivory-Tatum said.
She said the district would be working with elementary school administrators to identify students who aren’t engaging well with remote learning to offer them an in-person component.
“I know we didn’t hear from very many of those families in our public statements, but I hear from them quite often — parents who are begging us to bring our kids back to school,” she said.
The in-person component may include “working in the learning labs” for K-3 students, Ivory-Tatum said, “but it also will mean maybe being in some classrooms for students that might need one-on-one. And for K-2, this may mean working in a small group in a classroom setting with a trusted adult.”
Ivory-Tatum said administrators are still developing plans to return to “full hybrid” learning in January.
Board member John Dimit expressed concerns about delaying in-person learning further.
“It troubles me that we’re backing off of in-person attendance when these truancy rates are way beyond what we’ve experienced in the past,” he said. “It tells me that no matter what we do, and as hard as we try to (make) remote learning effective, that it is not as effective as in-person learning.”
The board had been planning to discuss two hybrid options for the second quarter, both of which would have involved in-person learning from 8:30 to 11 a.m. every day but Wednesday for students in grades K-5 who choose that option.
During the public-comment period, several parents and teachers spoke out against these plans, many of them citing health concerns.
Teachers union President Alicia Trezise said her members are concerned about their health, their students’ health and the health of their families.
“The factors that led to the board to opt for full remote at the start of the year have not appreciably changed,” she said. “Active cases in the county, for instance, are slightly higher.”
Sam Vandegrift said he’s concerned about the “long-term ramifications” of COVID-19 that might not yet be known.
“I think we need to acknowledge that we don’t have all the information that we need to make this decision,” he said. “It puts the parents and grandparents and teachers and administrators and certainly the students at risk in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.”
And some said remote learning is now working well and didn’t want to disrupt that.
Parent and Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth said, “It was not easy to go fully remote, but we did it.”
“Now that we finally have a school rhythm, we’re being told this could all change,” she said.