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Local

Kane County schools prepare for uncertain school year as COVID-19 cases increase in Kane County

Education official: Districts, families need to be ready for changes

Students are greeted when they exit their school bus as they arrive at Kaneland John Shields Elementary School on the first day of school at on Aug. 14, 2019 in Sugar Grove.
Students are greeted when they exit their school bus as they arrive at Kaneland John Shields Elementary School on the first day of school at on Aug. 14, 2019 in Sugar Grove.

Whether Kane County public school students attend classes in-person or opt for remote learning, one thing that's certain is that their experience won't be the same as previous years when school resumes this fall.

Some districts are beginning in a hybrid model, where students attend on alternate days, while others are online-only.

All districts have been trying to follow the science and medical professionals, but that guidance has changed frequently, said Pat Dal Santo, regional superintendent of Kane County Schools.

"We started planning when school ended in March, but as we learned more and more about COVID, and what safety precautions must be taken, things had to change," she said. "It’s a fluid situation. Schools need to be as safe as possible for teachers and students- and that can be different for each district, and even in different buildings in the same district – it varies based on local schools."

Dal Santo said she believes that remote instruction has improved since last spring, so communities can feel more confident about online learning. But no matter the instructional mode, the districts will have to focus on addressing the learning loss from last spring's abrupt school closure.

"The bigger issue is once we are able to be back [in school] is regaining what we’ve lost during this time, and I think that will take some time," she said. "It could be a while before we’ll be able to regain [what we've lost]. Kids will be in a lot of different places- some kids have done well with remote learning, but others have not."

However, based on the ever-changing guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health, districts and families have to be prepared for sudden changes.

"The number of [COVID-19} cases could also change districts' plans. If cases continue to climb, all schools could be remote," Dal Santo said. "I think the Governor [JB Prtizker] will dictate a lot of that. The state board and the Governor want it to be a local decision, but they provide guidelines on what has to happen."

Despite this unprecedented situation, Dal Santo praised all the local districts for how they've worked together to find solutions to the very difficult problem of keeping kids and staff safe in schools.

"Districts have done amazingly well, and it's very complex," she said. "It’s so frustrating because we know kids should be in school, communities want kids in school, but we have to keep them safe. And the science just keeps changing because this is so new. Everyone’s doing the best they can. Everyone has to be flexible, because as the science changes, so do we. [Instruction] can go back and forth from remote to in-person, depending on what’s happening with COVID. The districts have plans in place for that."

Districts in other counties have reported that the number of substitute teachers are lower this year, but Dal Santo said that Kane County subs are still in the process of renewing their licenses. Last year, the county had 660 subs on its list. She said she still doesn't know how many will be on the list this year.

"We are down, but it's hard to say until everyone has an opportunity to renew the licensing, so we should know more in September of October," she said. "There's always a need for subs, and I don't have an answer about what we'll do if we don't have enough. It's hard to say because a lot [of districts] will be remote, so perhaps we don't need as many, but I don't know."

There have been some good things to come out of the pandemic, as Dal Santo said that she's been proud of the way educators have gotten creative to find new ideas.

"There is no precedent for what we’re in right now, and I have never been more impressed with a group of educators as I have been with the leadership in Kane County," she said. "They are working almost 24/7 to come up with solutions to keep kids learning and keep kids safe. I think the more we're able to handle this situation with grace and not be negative, the better it will be. I know it's hard, but if people can be as positive as they can, we will get through this a lot better than if they dwell on the bad parts."

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