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Ten-year-old Romy Bornhorst listens in during a virtual math class this past spring at her home in Oak Park. Remote learning was a challenge for her and many children.

Courtesy of Michael Bonhorst

Here’s How Schools Are Planning To Reopen. Few Parents And Teachers Are Satisfied.

When Oak Park parent Michael Bornhorst looks back at this past spring, he recalls how difficult it was to work from home while his two kids tried to do school. They’d regularly interrupt him, and he said the novelty of rolling out of bed and joining a Zoom meeting quickly faded for his kids.

“It started to become more [of a] ‘What’s the point?’ attitude from my children, because they weren’t interacting with their teachers and they weren’t interacting with their friends,” Bornhorst said.

There will undoubtedly be more of that this fall. School districts are starting to roll out their reopening plans, and it’s clear learning will not be the same. Proposals vary from in-person instruction with new rules to going fully remote to a mix of both.

Many schools like those in Bornhorst’s Oak Park elementary school district are considering a hybrid model that mixes in-person and remote learning. Students will be split up in two groups. One group attends in-person class Monday and Tuesday. The building is closed on Wednesday for a deep clean. The second group attends in-person on the last two days of the week. Students will log in remotely when they are not in the building.

Bornhorst said he doesn’t think half in-person, half remote equals full education.

“It’s easy for me as a parent to shoot holes,” he said. “But I’m not trained to come up with a better solution, and I trust they’re doing their best. So I think we’re going to give it a go and see what happens.”

Teachers weigh in

Meanwhile, teachers are mixed about the coming year.

“Is it scary to go back? Sure,” said middle school teacher Louise Stompor. But, she added, she thinks her Schiller Park district has “one of the best plans out there.”

Stompor thinks the mix of in-person and remote learning in her northwest suburban district will give her valuable time with students, but in safer, smaller groups.

Stompor said she’ll get more creative to keep the at-home kids engaged. And, unlike in the spring, she thinks students will be more accountable because of the in-person component.

“They think online they can just ignore you. They don’t read your messages,” she said. “But two days a week you’re still going to have to see me.”

Going fully remote

A few schools like Oak Park and River Forest High School in the west suburbs have proposed to start fully remote.

“I think it’s bold and forward thinking,” said OPRF math teacher Sheila Hardin. “It was a difficult, difficult decision to make.”

Hardin said there are many different schedules to consider for high school students, and going all remote allows for better planning, safety and more instructional time. She understands that families might not like the idea of e-learning after coming off a bumpy spring quarter. But she says this fall will be totally different.

“Their grades will count; their attendance will count,” Hardin said. “While there might be adjustments based on the fact that our students are coming in from a traumatic spring experience and we have to acknowledge that …. We are teaching. And strong teaching and learning is going to take place.”

The Chicago Teachers Union is demanding that Chicago Public Schools also go remote-only this fall. CPS officials are expected to release their plans on Friday, though they say a final decision on what the fall will look like won’t be made until right before school begins based on conditions at the time.

Read more: All of WBEZ’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Chicago and the region

The risks of in-person classes

The state is encouraging schools to prioritize students with special needs. Remote learning was especially difficult for special education students and kids learning English. Karen Moore, a special education teacher in south suburban Harvey, said she wants to get back with her students in-person, but she’s worried, especially after hearing about three Arizona teachers who contracted COVID-19.

“One passed away. She was doing the masks, sanitizing her hands,” she said. “When I saw that, I was just like, ‘She was following all of the guidelines.’ ”

Moore’s district is still coming up with a plan, and she thinks it would be safest to start the year remotely. But that’s an undertaking, too. Moore said there was a noticeable digital divide across the district during the spring. She said even with extra money to help close the gap, she questions the quality of the education.

“My internet connection is unstable,” she said. “These Chromebooks are not the best for this virtual learning, but this is what the district has given us.”


Sanjana Venkatesh, 13, will continue her schooling online this fall from her home in the northwest suburbs.

Courtesy of Jay Venkatesh

Families to decide how kids should learn

Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine is giving families a choice — either fully in-person or fully remote.

Most students will be locked into their choice for the year or until the state is fully reopened. Parent Jay Venkatesh is planning to keep her daughter at home.

“We are setting a very high expectation on these kids to socially distance themselves and act responsibly in the school setting with their peers and other kids of younger age groups,” she said.

Her daughter is unhappy with the decision since many of her friends are going back in-person. And it could last a while. She doesn’t think she’ll send her daughter back to school until there’s a vaccine.

Venkatesh said she’s considering getting her daughter a puppy to make up for not seeing her friends.

Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @soosieon.

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