Dr. Howard

The first brand-new school in Champaign since 2012 — Dr. Howard Elementary — will have a different debut than officials envisioned.

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With August just three days away, Arcola school board members will vote tonight on the draft of a reopening plan that Superintendent Tom Mulligan characterizes as “not complete yet but it includes many components.”

Pass it, and they’ll return for a final vote on the full plan on Aug. 14 — five days before students report for Day 1 of “blended learning” in the Douglas County district.

Cutting it close is standard practice these days as school boards and superintendents try to figure out the fine points of reopening plans that meet the expectations of families, staff, state education officials and public health districts in the midst of a global pandemic that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

And, as Monticello district chief Vic Zimmerman writes in a guest column in today's News-Gazette, “850 school districts in Illinois equals close to 850 different return-to-school plans for 2020-21.”

Around here, most include a remote learning component — either optional or the only offering available — but they vary widely on how many days a week students will be physically present in school buildings. Here’s just a sampling:

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Not full days, mind you, but ones with on-site instruction ending afternoons at 12:30 (Unity Junior High and High School), 1 (Paxton’s Clara Peterson Elementary), 1:17 (Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond High) and 2 (Bement).

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That’s the plan in Fisher and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, among the many districts adopting blended models — in their case, ones that call for students learning remotely on Wednesdays and attending classes the traditional way the rest of the week.

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The every-other-week schedule for St. Joseph-Ogden High students, who’ll be divvied up into two groups (“Maroon” and “Columbia Blue,” after the Spartan colors), with only half on campus at any given time, alternating between two- and three-day weeks.

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Among the districts where students will learn remotely three days a week: Urbana, Villa Grove and Prairieview-Ogden. It’s also the in-school plan for sixth- through 12th-graders at Mahomet-Seymour, where parents have finished choosing between it and the all-remote option and scheduling is about to begin, Superintendent Lindsey Hall says.

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While many Unit 4 students will spend their days in the district’s Virtual Academy, Georgetown-Ridge Farm officials this week adopted a full-fledged remote plan for the entire student body. “The decision was a difficult one,” Superintendent Jean Neal said, “but in the end, a conservative approach focused upon staff and students safety seemed the best choice at this time.”

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