September 19, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO and District #169 announce modified plans for upcoming school year

Though the three schools located in St. Joseph are roughly 1 mile apart, the two school districts will operate different schedules this upcoming school year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Joseph-Ogden High School is looking at a hybrid schedule of in-person instruction and remote learning to start the 2020-21 school year, SJO Superintendent Brian Brooks announced on Friday.

“This is an extremely difficult situation for everyone,” Brooks said. “Our expectation at SJO, as well as our parents’ expectations during times outside of a pandemic, is that student safety must come first when there is a potential known danger to students.”

St. Joseph Middle School and St. Joseph Grade School, which is a separate district than SJO, is looking at plan that would see students attend school five days a week, but do so in half-day segments, where half of the students attend in the morning and the remaining students attend in the afternoon. The district came to this conclusion based on parents feedback, St. Joseph CCSD Superintendent Todd Pence said.

The Illinois State Board of Education requires schools to make contact with each student daily, Pence said, and the K-8 district feels this option is the best way to start the year.

For SJO, Brooks said students at the high school will be split into two groups, with only half of its student population on campus at any given time. One group would be labeled Maroon and the other Columbia Blue after the school’s colors.

Each group would have in-person instruction every other day for a full day. One group would be on campus three days and the other group would attend school two days. The following week, the groups would switch days. The days the students are not physically in class would be remote learning days.

“We don’t feel we would be doing our due diligence with those expectations if we aren’t following the state health department’s safety guidelines during a pandemic,” Brooks said, “and then aren’t doing everything we can to provide a strong education to our students within those guidelines.”

Brooks said the district looked at several factors when making this decision, including the safety of the students and staff, trying to best meet the academic needs of each student and concerns that families might have with daycare options with SJO and its two feeder districts, St. Joseph Grade and Prairieview-Ogden, operating a different school structure.

Brooks said the proposed schedule allows the district to meet safety standards and allows their students the greatest amount of in-person instruction with their teachers.

“However, it does not offer great assistance for our families who would like their high school student to watch younger siblings and we recognize that,” Brooks said.

In regards to St. Joseph Middle School and St. Joseph Grade School, a parent survey was sent out and 493 families responded.

Of the families who responded, 100 families said they would not send their child to school if they had to wear a mask all day.

To help address this issue, the district is having students come to school for three-hour increments instead of seven.

In the survey, 450 families opted for a choice of in-person and remote learning versus full-time remote learning.

The grade school will schedule siblings for the same sessions regardless if they are in the grade school or middle school.

Brooks said the high school recognizes not being on the same schedule as the feeder districts will pose a problem for some families and it is not something the district is taking lightly.

“We have spent a lot of hours trying to determine if either of their schedules would work at SJO but in the end, we feel that both would short-change the academic needs of our students,” he said. “High school education is just completely different than elementary education.”

Brooks said when the high school students are in remote learning, the expectation will be that teachers are moving forward with their instruction and curriculum each day so that students are learning as much of the curriculum as possible. Students will also be assessed for all their work and their grades will be able to go up or down based on student work.

The district plans to re-evaluate the system in September once they are able to have students in the building and examine hallway traffic, lunchroom use and classrooms.

If the district feels it can meet the safety guidelines with all of the students in the building at the same time, then they will transition back to that, Brooks said.

“We have families that feel we should be 100 percent back in school full time, families who feel we should be 100 percent remote learning due to safety concerns, families who have major concerns for daycare and everything in between,” Brooks said. “We understand and share in the concern of each of these groups.”

The grade school district is not opting for e-learning based on parent feedback.

“Another concern many parents expressed on the survey was that teaching their child at home was a daunting task, which would be compounded with many parents returning to work,” Pence said.

The grade school and middle school does not expect parents to teach their children when they are home for a half-day. Instead, the child would be able to work independently on tasks or work the teacher has sent home and then ask questions of the teacher the following day.

The grade school and middle school will not have lunch served at school or recess while on the AM/PM schedule.

Meals will be provided, but they would be passed out in the classrooms as students leave the building to be eaten at home.
Students who order meals in the morning session would be provided a lunch for that day and the following days breakfast. Afternoon students would be given breakfast and lunch for the following day.

Parents also expressed concern about the technology needed to complete work at home. The grade school and middle school will be assigning every student in grades second through eighth with a Chromebook. The Chromebook will be used in class and taken home daily. This will allow students to access Google Classroom and attend class meetings if and when they are needed. Kindergarten and first-grade students will use iPads in the classroom and first graders will have the option to take their tables home.

The grade school and middle school will be surveying parents within the next few weeks to help plan schedules and transportation.

Both districts are moving their start date to August 17.

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