Thornton Township District 205 favors remote learning as COVID-19 cases surge

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by Safiyyah Muhammad

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (July 27, 2020) – With the start of the school year drawing near, Thornton Township High School District 205 hosted a virtual town hall meeting on July 20 to gather input from the community and to hear recommendations for the District’s 2020-2021 in-person learning options versus remote learning in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Illinois has reached more than 170,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths. (The Lansing Journal provides a daily update on COVID numbers. Sign up here to receive that via email.)

The town hall meeting streamed live across social media and the District’s website. More than 400 people viewed the virtual meeting.

In the process of selecting a final plan, the District implemented three steps of input, including a survey, school committees’ recommendation, and the July 20 town hall meeting.

Dr. Nathaniel Cunningham, Superintendent (Photo provided)
“We started with four school plans, and now we have narrowed it down to remote learning and in-person learning,” said Dr. Nathaniel Cunningham, District 205 Superintendent for the Board of Education and moderator of the town hall meeting. “I believe everyone agrees that the best way to educate our students is in-person learning, but we have to take into account the safety of the students and staff.”

District 205 Board Members present at the meeting included Nina Graham, Board President, Annette Whittington, Vice-President, and Cunningham.

Brett Fickes, Director of Curriculum & Instruction (Photo provided)
Brett Fickes, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, reviewed the survey data and detail of the two school plans. The principals of the buildings reviewed the information and took recommendations from the school committees. Questions, comments, and concerns were taken from the community.

In a PowerPoint presentation, the summary of results stated students were split 50/50 between remote learning and in-person learning. More than twice as many parents and community members were in favor of remote learning (68.6%) over returning to school in-person (31.4%). Over three times as many staff are in favor of remote learning over returning to school in-person. Building principals who are in favor of remote learning include Dr. Tony Ratliff (Thornton High School), Don Holmes (Thornwood High School), and Dr. Justin Moore (Thornridge High School).

Don Holmes, Thornwood High School principal (Photo provided)
Several parents who attended the meeting had questions concerning remote learning. Fickes explained that if remote learning is adopted for the new school year, “All students will be expected to work from their Chromebook to engage in everyday learning. They are expected to review their Google Classroom application using their Chromebook for projects, classroom activities, and assignments. Students will also find tests and other materials in Google Classroom.”

Fickes continued, “During this time of remote learning, students’ responsibility will increase. They are expected to communicate with their teacher daily. The teacher will respond to email within 24 hours.”

In-person learning would include regular class schedules combined with rigorous CDC guidelines, including the wearing of face masks for staff and students, daily temperature checks, and desks situated in the classroom six feet apart. Students would refrain from sharing classroom activities, with limited hallway movement. Students would no longer have access to school lockers. Sports and extracurricular activities would be banned.

Parents and students asked questions about online registration, qualifications for band scholarships, drivers’ education programs, and more. Dr. Cunningham explained that additional information is found on the Frequently Asked Question page on the District’s website and social media page.

A Thornridge student asked about how the District planned to upgrade its remote learning program to make it more user-friendly, especially for graduating seniors.

Dr. Justin Moore, Thornridge High School principal (Photo provided)
Dr. Justin Moore, the new incoming principal at Thornridge High School, said, “Nationwide, we had to put together a plan rapidly, and I think we will have a more robust plan in place as a District, and as a school to educate our students with enhanced learning capabilities versus what we had in place last spring at Thornridge.”

“Time has given us the ability to plan out and troubleshoot some of the issues we had,” Moore added.

Dr. Tony Ratliff, Thornton High School principal (Photo provided)
With the increase of coronavirus cases over the summer along with the anticipated surge of fall cases, a Thornton High School student expressed concerns in regards to in-person learning if it becomes the District’s chosen plan. Dr. Ratliff responded by saying that Thornton would do its very best to protect students and staff, however the school administration could not offer a solid guarantee that students and staff would be completely protected if in-person learning became the chosen plan by the District.

More information is forthcoming regarding the Thornton Township High School District 205 school plan. To learn more about online registration for the upcoming school year, log on to www.district205.net or call 708-225-4000.

The District 205 administrative center is located at 465 E. 170th Street in South Holland, Illinois.

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