Opening Message for Board of Education Meeting on August 3, 2020
Superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele
Before we open the floor to the reception of visitors, I would like to share my thoughts.
The last few months have been incredibly trying on everyone. We are all stressed, scared, and concerned for our kids. None of us signed up for the world we are living in right now. However, the Board of Education members and Administrators did sign up to do what we believe is best for District 99 and our students, under any circumstances. We have always done that and we will continue to do so.
Our community has rightly been concerned and anxious for answers; unfortunately, in the last two weeks, the uncertainty has created division. As of late, many people, in their attempt to persuade others they are right, have forgotten that we are all going through this together - as a community. In the last few weeks Board Members and administrators have been threatened, have been told that people are hoping we die of COVID, and have had other individuals wish that our own children catch this horrible disease and die first. I have seen equally horrible comments on social media directed at the members of this community and our teachers.
I respectfully ask that this all stops tonight.
We are all here through no fault of our own. A Novel Virus combined with lack of timely leadership at all levels above us - brings us to where we are tonight. We left our school buildings on March 13, but had no clear guidance for this year until June 23 - and that was full of statements couched with “if possibles” and unclear recommendations. We have continued to receive changing guidance throughout the summer, including 100 new pages from the state just last week - less than a month before school starts. Even with all of these challenges we have continued to work closely with our health departments and have developed a safe plan that is focused on the needs of our students.
I have attempted to keep the community informed and have shared what we are able to via email all summer. However, too often people look for some underlying hidden meaning in what we send out. I do not operate that way. What I send the community is sent with positive intent - I am trying to lead us forward in the way that I believe is best for our students.
When I shared with the community on Friday that we needed to change our path forward because of documented medical accommodation and leave requests - it is exactly that. It is not some hidden message about a teacher’s strike or some veiled threat towards our staff. We proactively reached out to our staff before our hybrid plan was released to gather requests for their legitimate medical concerns and leave requests. These were due Friday - only two weeks after the plan was released to the public. This is not a lot of time to gather everything you might need to document such a request. As of Friday, we received requests from 57 teachers and support staff seeking what they believe are legitimate documented medical accommodations or leave requests. This reflects approximately 9% of our staff that interact with students on a daily basis. We need to process all of these with the care and respect they deserve. If we need to provide accommodations, such as working remotely, or grant a leave request, we then have to hire or reassign staff to take care of that work. Hiring in a school - during a pandemic and teacher shortage is difficult. Doing so requires us to recruit, interview, background check, hire, and onboard new staff. This all takes time - results from a background check can take a few days to a few weeks. This is why we have a new recommended modified hybrid plan.
We are still requesting to open with a modified hybrid model - for one week - to start the school year.
By supplementing with internal substitutes and administrators, we are able to cover for staff shortages and run this schedule for this one week; however, it is unsustainable in the longer term until we resolve our staffing needs. This one hybrid week allows students to come in and meet most, if not all, of their teachers and get the materials they need for the year. It allows us to also execute the hybrid model for one week and learn from it.
From there we recommend transitioning to two weeks of Remote Learning, which you will hear specific details about tonight and which will differ from the spring. During the Remote Learning time we will plan for a return to the hybrid model, if health conditions allow us to be in a hybrid mode while following IDPH guidelines.
It will be my recommendation tonight to have students return to school on September 8 under the hybrid model - if it is safe to do so at that time.
This plan provides us the time we need to get our staff in place to run this model for as long as possible.
You will hear tonight specifically how we arrived at this point, some more information about the hybrid model, and details about remote learning. We will hear from the public soon in the reception of visitors and I remind those in attendance that we will not respond to questions during that time. It is your opportunity to have your voice heard - it is not a dialogue. However, I will attempt to answer questions we hear as part of the presentation. We will also track questions to include in an updated FAQ.
For those who choose to learn remotely entirely in our hybrid plan, we will support you. We will ensure equity for all students and everyone will receive a quality education and positive experience - no matter where they are learning. Students will have access to teacher office hours, all materials will be available whether conveyed remotely or in person, remote resource centers will be open and attendance will be taken. You will be served by our curriculum. You will be served by our teachers.
Finally, I would like to thank the students, families, and community members that have participated in this process. No school administration, staff, or Board of Education has ever been through this before - just as nobody from the public has. I ask that everyone take a moment to understand that we are all doing our best in a terrible situation. Nobody knows the absolute right answers right now and we are all trying to do what we think is best for our students. I ask, as we enter into the reception of visitors, that everyone remains civil.
Please know the administration and the volunteers that serve as Board Members all are trying to find the best possible path forward - when there isn’t one clear answer. For my first time as a leader, I am confident that I will choose an outcome that makes nobody happy - not even myself. There is really nothing to be happy about in this time of COVID - and that is probably the only thing the world can agree on right now.
Thank you Board of Education for your service to this community and for your confidence in me as I lead this district.