Editorial: D203 should apply lessons learned during pandemic to 2021-2022 school year

In less than a month, Naperville District 203 will have completed a full school year of pandemic learning, and considering the trials and tribulations of this difficult situation, making it to summer break is an admirable feat on the part of administrators, teachers, maintenance staff and students alike.

In the fall, the district plans to return to “normal” pre-pandemic learning. As we prepare for this, Central Times recommends that the district give ample time for the community to transition and apply the lessons of the pandemic to best improve students’ education. 

One of the biggest changes the district anticipates making next year is a return to the traditional eight-period school day. This semester’s block schedule worked well with social distancing and hybrid learning requirements, and for some students, fostered good time management and self-directed habits. 

We must note, however, that the teacher office hours built into the block schedule will be sorely missed. Many students took advantage of the opportunity to reinforce their knowledge with a teacher, spending as much time as they needed. The eight-period day makes it virtually impossible for students to receive that kind of support, which is more necessary than ever given the learning gaps the pandemic may have created. Hopefully, schools can find some alternative means of offering more extensive support. 

Students and staff certainly have more experience going through the eight-period day. With more frequent transitions between classes, they can also retain focus more easily. Assuming that there is a return to “normal,” school days would revert to their original length, so a block schedule might be even more mentally exhausting than it is. Overall, the traditional schedule will be a more comfortable way to learn.

The district will also offer a remote learning option to students who provide a medical exemption. Central Times recognizes that an overwhelming majority of students plan to attend school in-person, and that the district has limited resources, which is why the online option will likely have fewer course options. 

To mitigate this disparity, the district should remain as flexible as possible. School administrators can work out specific deals, allowing students to take some classes remotely and others in-person. Additionally, Central Times strongly recommends that students whose family members have medical conditions putting them at risk for COVID-19 also be given the option to enroll online, because they have the right to keep their families safe.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing that fully vaccinated individuals can forgo their masks in most settings and all 12 to 15-year-olds now eligible for the vaccine, it is likely—but not certain, because health agencies can issue changes to policies in the blink of an eye—that new guidance allows for decreased COVID restrictions, especially at the high school level.

But to completely assume that mitigation in the fall will be unnecessary would be unwise. The district should encourage eligible students and staff to receive the vaccine. It should also ascertain the vaccination rate among students and staff, and use that number with other metrics to make the most informed decisions about masking, PPE supply, social distancing, quarantine and school-sponsored travel. Implementing an “honor system” approach and lifting masking requirements for everyone without reaching a target vaccination rate would be counterproductive, as those who have not gotten the vaccine would still be susceptible to infection and could transmit the virus to students or family members who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical issues.

Though  conditions are improving, normalcy is still far away. Students, staff and families will be expecting detailed communication, viable contingencies and ample flexibility from the district during this transitionary period. If the district keeps this in mind, it will set everyone up for a successful 2021-2022 school year.