Remote Learning FAQ
For our Aug. 10, 2020, town hall on remote learning, we received roughly 500 questions about our plans for first semester. While answering all of the questions individually isn't feasible, below are answers to some of those that have been asked most frequently. We will continue to add to this FAQ in the coming weeks.
NEW Additional Questions
Posted Oct. 19, 2020
The learning plan that the Board approved on Aug. 5 committed the district to remote learning for the entire first semester. This was the safest option for protecting students and staff while allowing as much preparation and as little schedule disruption as possible. While the district currently is developing a hybrid plan, and launching it at the beginning of the semester certainly would be ideal, there is no way to predict the status of COVID-19 more than two months from now. Commiting to a particular date too soon would likely create confusion and frustration if that date had to change.
The district definitely is looking at other district’s hybrid plans and consulting with them about what has worked well and what hasn’t. While there’s much to be gleaned from those plans, there simply is not a one-size-fits-all model. Unique factors such as classroom sizes and configurations, the number of teachers sharing classrooms, numbers of staff available on site, numbers of students who want to participate on site, etc., all have to be considered.
As specified in the governor’s Restore Illinois plan, schools may not fully return to pre-pandemic operations until there is a “vaccine or highly effective treatment widely available or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period.” In the meantime, given social distancing and other health and safety requirements, we can accommodate roughly 25%, or about 800, of our students in the building at any one time. We currently are working on a hybrid plan that would offer students an opportunity to participate in some level of on-site learning, as long as it is safe to do so.
Our understanding of COVID-19 is much greater than it was back in May, when we began planning for the 2020-2021 school year only a few weeks into the pandemic. Since then researchers have learned an enormous amount about how COVID-19 is transmitted, how different populations are affected, what safety measures are critical, etc. In addition, the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health finally issued consistent guidance for schools in late summer, after weeks of ever-changing recommendations. We’ve also learned from the experiences of schools around the world that have returned to in-person classes. While the number of students we can safely have in the building is unchanged--about 25-30% of the student body at any one time--we are much more confident now that we have the right processes and procedures to keep students and staff safe.
We don’t anticipate conducting an opinion survey, as decisions about whether to hold any level of on-site instruction must be driven by public-health data. However, families will have the choice to opt in or opt out of on-site classes for students.
We’ve created an advisory committee that includes experts in pediatrics, infectious disease, virology, and emergency medicine. Click here to see the list of members. The advisory committee is not responsible for making recommendations to the Board but rather providing input and guidance to the steering committee, which is creating the plan to present to the Board.
In hindsight, we probably should have. Our focus at the time was on figuring out the many logistical pieces of a plan--structuring a schedule, safety precautions for the building, academic and social-emotional supports, etc. These seemed like pieces that needed to be figured out by the employees charged with carrying out the work, i.e., teachers, staff, and administrators. In the current phase of planning, however, we are seeking the input of a variety of community representatives, including parents, students, and medical experts. Click here to see the list of members.
As soon as possible. Our goal is to have negotiations completed when we bring the plan to the Board for approval on Dec. 3.
An on-site classroom where identified diverse learners receive support from a substitute teacher and paraprofessionals during remote learning.
In total, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) requires five clock hours per day of a combination of direct instruction and other school work, such as homework, projects, exams, etc. The five hours do not have to be consecutive, as some of the work is done on the student’s own time.
ISBE strongly recommends at least 2.5 hours per day of synchronous learning, defined as teaching and learning in real-time while online. The OPRF-specific requirement is that for each course, at least 50% and up to 100% of class time every week must be spent in synchronous learning, on platforms such as Google Meet or Zoom. With 1,200+ class sections, there really is no way to monitor that these requirements are being met in every class, every day. However, our expectations have been clearly communicated to our school community.
Based on faculty reporting, informal feedback from students, and administrators checking classes by dropping in for non-evaluative observations, we are confident that the vast majority of our classes are meeting synchronously 100% of the available time. If there’s an ongoing concern about a specific class, you should share that with the division head.
It’s too soon to say for sure. We are considering several different options for a hybrid schedule, some of which are based on block scheduling similar to first semester.
Our current ventilation systems are in good condition, with approximately 65% of the systems being no more than 10 years old. In response to the pandemic, guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends that schools upgrade their filters to ones with a MERV-13 rating. MERV, which stands for minimum efficiency reporting values, rates air filters on a scale of 1-16 to indicate their ability to capture particles between 0.3 and 10 microns. The MERV-13 is efficient at capturing airborne viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Of the roughly 170 classrooms that would be used for hybrid learning, the air handlers for all but 34 are being upgraded to use MERV-13 filters. The air handlers for the latter are unable to accommodate MERV-13 filters due to their age. Nevertheless, these ventilation systems are operating correctly and have done so through years of cold, flu, and whooping cough seasons. Although COVID-19 is much more serious, with social distancing, mask wearing, and sanitizing protocols in place, these classrooms should be safe to use.
That decision rests with the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). In July, IHSA announced that the winter sports season will begin on November 16, and the sports that may be able to participate are boys and girls basketball, girls gymnastics, boys swim and dive, wrestling, cheerleading, and drill team. However, the IHSA will not announce until late October which of these sports, if any, are actually approved for competition.
Posted Sept. 8, 2020
Ultimately, our performance indicators for e-learning are the same as they are for in-person learning. Student success will be monitored using the same data we use every year, with attendance rates and grade rate distributions being the most prominent. In a remote environment; however, student engagement is the critical factor, and we are examining attendance rates closely and reaching out to students to ensure that students stay engaged throughout the year. As the year moves on, we will also examine assessment data to determine our success (Advanced Placement, PSAT, SAT, etc.). For a more comprehensive list of the data we track on a yearly basis, please refer to the district data dashboard, found here.
Every lesson has to be reworked and sometimes rewritten to accommodate the new environment. Here are just some of the special considerations for remote learning:
- How class time will be used. Teachers need to reconsider every moment of the hour they are with their students, as well as the physical resources they’ve previously used that students may not have at home (handouts, protractors, colored pencils, etc.). How will students be engaged while sitting in one place? How will students access the materials? What happens if a piece of technology fails?
- New technology. Teachers are spending hours learning new programs (EdPuzzle, Jamboard, Peardeck, etc.), then creating and uploading new materials for each class. Assessing what works to enhance each day’s objectives and what doesn’t is a continual process.
- Providing immediate feedback. Teachers have to consider how to gauge understanding and measure mastery in a meaningful way just to be able to plan for the next lesson. In face-to-face instruction, teachers can move around the room using all available media for individual feedback, or students can move from station to station while the instructor comments. All of that is lost in remote learning, and teachers are spending a lot of planning time figuring out how to duplicate that experience as much as possible.
- Breakout sessions. Planning for small group work in Zoom is more time consuming compared to in-person. Teachers cannot be in more than one group at a time, which means that they must be careful to be explicit with instructions and check that students understand them before they put them into rooms.
- The intangible. In person you can hear the “hum” of the room as students get started on an activity, and it tells a teacher if students are engaged or confused. During remote learning, that is only possible as you move from one breakout room to another, which takes more time.
- Assessment. Most previous assessments are no longer valid. Written assessments must be completely redone to adjust to a different amount of content that can be covered in the usual number of days or weeks and to reduce academic dishonesty.
- Additional collaboration. Teachers of the same courses are spending additional time working together to make adjustments for the new schedule and for students’ varying levels of engagement and learning after the spring closure.
All of these are valuable endeavors but time consuming. It is also worth noting that none of our teachers have done this before; this is not the crisis teaching of spring semester. Time is finite and the amount of work that goes into each day of teaching is significant.
Certain classes, including but not limited to self-contained special education, auto, woodworking, behind-the-wheel, nursing, and related services will have an in-person component to them. Details are still being worked out, but specific schedules will be developed collaboratively between teachers able and willing to teach in person and their supervisors. All established safety protocols will be followed.
Students will primarily be using virtual lab programs to engage in science labs. In some rare cases lab materials may be sent home, but only after ensuring students use them safely on their own.
OPRF is not unusual in its decision not to record lectures; of 22 high school districts in our usual cohort, only two were considering recording classes. (One superintendent reported that students have taken recorded classes, edited them inappropriately, then posted them on social media.) One reason is that the remote learning schedule allows many opportunities for students to get direct, targeted assistance from teachers if needed, just as they normally would if they missed or didn’t understand content during in-person instruction. This type of personal support and “reteaching” is more valuable than relying on a recording. Another significant factor was the time that would be required for teachers to manage all of the recordings. Each teacher would have to create and distribute unique encryption codes for roughly 15 recordings a week in their Google Classrooms, then remember to delete each one after 10 days in order to protect privacy for themselves and for students. And finally, we have already had students asking to record classes when they do not plan or want to attend class, and we do not want to encourage missing any instruction.
Students can visit the Virtual Tutoring Center Monday - Friday, 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., by going to Google Classroom and using the code wxwfasv. Once a student joins the Classroom and accesses the Zoom link posted there, Tutoring Center Coordinator Ms. Starr will greet them, ask for their student ID number, and what subject/area the student is requesting tutoring. Ms. Starr will assign the student to a breakout room staffed by a certified teacher.
We have developed a tiered system to identify and support students’ emotional well-being during remote learning. Additional activities will be added as the need arises.
- Tier I is for all students and includes schoolwide mindfulness activities during advisory, to acknowledge the varying levels of trauma everyone is experiencing and develop skills for emotional self-regulation. Counselors and social workers are always available for appointments, and two groups led by social workers also are available: QuaranTEEN Meetup, for students to connect with peers, and E-Learning Group, to help students get organized.
- Tier 2 includes individual outreach from referrals to counselors and social workers, as well as support from deans where there are documented concerns about remote learning engagement; the latter may include home visits. We will also be starting a referral-initiated, criteria-based Executive Functioning Study Skills course and several topic-centered social work groups.
- Tier 3 includes a referral-based Mentor Study semester class to address academic and social-emotional learning deficits; social worker support is built into the class. In addition to one-on-one support from counselors and social workers we also offer assistance from an interventionist from our regional office of education.
We’ll be looking at weekly attendance, grades, the volume of students accessing the Virtual Tutoring Center and their feedback, and anecdotes from classroom teachers.
With all of us on our computers now more than ever, email is the easiest way to reach counselors and, between synchronous learning periods, teachers. Students can also send messages to teachers in Google Classroom. Parents also can ask for teachers to call them, using Google Voice, but please note that teachers are not always able to immediately return a phone call.
The curriculum for drama and tech classes has been reimagined and revamped for remote learning. Daily classes include warmups, building ensemble, developing content, rehearsals, and performances, all via Zoom. Tech class is making materials available for students to complete their work from home, while performance classes will still hold a semester showcase, via Zoom webinar. Similarly, the two Studio 200 and two Little Theatre productions will still be held first semester, with rehearsals and performances taking place via Zoom webinar. Drama Club will still be held weekly or biweekly via Zoom, so that theatre students can still connect even if they aren’t in a class or cast in a show.
Decisions about which sports may play are made not by OPRF but by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA). In late July, IHSA announced that athletics for 2020-2021 will operate on a modified four-season schedule. Click here to see the announcement, and be sure to scroll down to see which sports are assigned to which season. Please note: While all sports are listed, the IHSA has not yet announced which ones will actually be able to run beyond fall, when only those deemed low-risk have been permitted to participate.
We do not have the classroom capacity for each teacher to be in a single classroom at OPRF. If we had all 280 certified staff members, plus teaching assistants, sharing rooms, teachers would have to teach with masks on. In addition, the common office areas for teachers are inadequate for social distancing. That said, we do have roughly three dozen teachers who have asked to be allowed to teach remotely from their classrooms, and we are working on safely meeting those requests.
Formal evaluation depends on whether a teacher is non-tenured or tenured.
- All non-tenured teachers will be evaluated as usual this year, using the regular evaluation process.
- Tenured teachers who were scheduled for evaluation in 2020-2021 and whose last summative rating was excellent will default to the excellent rating.
- Tenured teachers who were scheduled for evaluation in 2020-2021 and whose last summative rating was proficient or needs improvement will default to proficient, unless they request an evaluation. We do not currently have any tenured teachers with an unsatisfactory rating.
- If deemed necessary, tenured teachers scheduled for evaluation this year can be evaluated next school year.
While informal observations cannot be included as part of the formal evaluation process, administrators may conduct them at any time in order to provide teachers with feedback and professional growth coaching.
Going to the teacher first is important because there may be a specific rationale that has been explained to the class; the teacher not only should have the opportunity to speak to this but also should know that their rationale was not heard. Confronting concerns directly can be challenging and uncomfortable, but think about it this way--in our own jobs, most of us would probably prefer the opportunity to address issues ourselves before someone goes to our boss. These tips on having tough conversations might be helpful. Then if your attempt to resolve the issue directly is not successful, the appropriate next step would be to contact the division head.
Teachers will all have lesson plans for substitutes on file with their division heads. These plans will focus on asynchronous instruction, as giving subs access to teachers’ Google classrooms raises a variety of issues, such as knowledge of the technology and security.
Both the administration and Faculty Senate are in agreement that the health and safety of students and staff must be our number one priority. In order to institute physical distancing and sanitizing guidelines, our building can accommodate only about 25%-30% of our student population at one time. Based on guidelines from the Illinois State Board of Education, students with the most need, which includes those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 accommodations, should be prioritized for in-person instruction and services.
It depends on what those conditions are. A return to full in-person instruction as it was before the pandemic presumes that Illinois has reached Stage 5 and likely would not. Switching to a hybrid plan, which would require teachers to be on-site at least some of the time, would represent a significant change in working conditions from semester 1 and therefore would require negotiating a new memorandum of agreement.
Actually we will be giving the PSAT for juniors who wish to take it on the state testing day, Saturday, Oct. 17. Seniors will be required to take the SAT that day. Testing will be held in person, with appropriate social distancing and safety protocols in place. Stay tuned for further details.
To ensure the absence “call-in” is recorded, please send an email to email@example.com specifying the periods your student will be absent and the reason. Coming soon, parents will be able to report absences directly in Family Access which will eliminate the need for the email. We will alert families when this feature becomes available.
Questions in following sections posted Aug. 17, 2020
We all want to be back in the school with our students as quickly as possible, and we examined a wide variety of schedules developed by districts throughout the state to see if that’s possible. In all scenarios, the challenge of instituting a hybrid model was limited by four factors:
- In order to institute physical distancing guidelines, the vast majority of our classrooms could hold only 7-8 students. That means we could accommodate approximately 25%-30% of our student population--about 850 students--at one time.
- With the need to prioritize in-person services for the students who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 accommodations,the number of other students who could be brought in on a rotating basis was further limited.
- Even if we were able to bring in 25% of our overall student population each day, transitioning classes from period to period would make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to maintain social distancing and sanitize classrooms between periods.
- Finally, as predicted earlier this summer, the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise in our area. Limiting the risk to our students and our community, while focusing on a quality remote-learning approach for the fall semester, is simply the most prudent path to take.
Ensuring safety in a health-care setting staffed by adults with medical training and full-body PPE is not the same as trying to ensure the safety of hundreds of teenagers who are unlikely to exhibit 100% compliance with risk-reduction protocols such as mask-wearing and hand-washing. The two environments are not comparable.
With social distancing requirements, mobile classrooms would not accommodate enough students to be a feasible option. Tents might be useful in good weather but would lead to last-minute cancelations in inclement conditions and would not be at all suitable in cold weather. They also would present challenges for cleaning and sanitation, as would providing adequate bathroom facilities that could be thoroughly and frequently sanitized.
Two streaming platforms are being made available to faculty: Zoom and Google Meet. Each allows for a safe and secure streaming environment to students during synchronous instruction.
The embedded microphone, camera, and display in teacher laptops work well when the teacher is in close proximity to the device. Including a wider scope and replicating what is happening in a classroom on a remote/digital platform requires outfitting each classroom with appropriate cameras, monitors, speakers, and microphones. Vendors have confirmed that they are out of stock and likely won’t have any availability until well into the first semester if not later. Implementation costs are significant.
We are committed to preserving the breadth of our current curricular offerings, even in a remote environment. Additionally, graduation requirements have not been waived by the Illinois State Board of Education; eliminating electives, which help fulfill those requirements, isn’t a path we are able to take.
No. Teachers may divide students into smaller virtual groups, but the school as a whole is not arranging any in-person or virtual groups outside of what occurs in regular classes.
Yes. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) requires a minimum of five clock hours per day of a combination of direct instruction and other school work, such as independent student work, small-group work, asynchronous learning activities, etc. Our schedule includes 5.5 hours, and students should expect at least that amount on school work each day. ISBE also strongly recommends at least 2.5 hours per day of synchronous learning. We are requiring that at least 50% and up to 100% of the class time every week must be spent in whole-class or small-group synchronous learning via Google Meet or Zoom. While exact amounts of synchronous learning will vary based on curricular and instructional needs, on average students should expect to engage in at least 2.5 hours each day.
We are committed to engaging students in the essential content in each of our classes to help ensure their readiness for future coursework and experiences after high school. Our teachers will be taking a variety of approaches to do so, including:
- Using common preassessments to ensure we are meeting students where their needs are.
- Establishing benchmarks and essential learning targets for all classes.
- Adhering to the Advanced Placement syllabi that are submitted to and approved by the College Board each school year.
- Using weekly collaboration meetings with their peers to ensure that we are covering all required content.
Some adjustments may have to be made to the curriculum, but students still will experience rigorous courses. For instance, during our emergency switch to remote learning for fourth quarter last year, some alterations had to be made to some of the curriculum; teachers will evaluate their students early in first semester to assess for gaps in students’ previous learning. This will be factored into the curriculum they plan to teach, and will help determine what material will be covered during the semester.
We are in the final stages of developing our plans for classes that require hands on learning experiences more than others. We are examining ways for some of these classes to meet in the school periodically throughout the semester, as well as establishing ways to enhance individualized practice and performances using a variety of technological platforms. We will be announcing these plans as soon as we can.
Teachers are not required to work from their classroom during remote learning. Due to space constraints, our 280+ teachers share classrooms, which would create safety concerns if they were in the building. Co-teachers and teaching assistants would also need to be considered in the logistics of working from our classrooms; with two people in a room they would need to be masked, which would negatively affect the lesson for the students
Yes, they are still happening, and we will distribute any necessary materials. We also are exploring ways to bring some students on site for portions of these classes. We'll know more in the coming days and weeks.
We do plan on having musicals and performances, but they will be virtual until further notice. Look for further information from music teachers, who have been working creatively to find a way for students to showcase their work.
First consideration will be given to transitioning self-contained classrooms to in-person learning, as these classes can function as a cohort or pod of students whose academic and functional needs require more intensive support and services. Our transition process also will include an objective, data-based review of academic and functional data to ensure students are equitably identified.
Any staff person or student who enters the building must be screened for symptoms and abide by all safety protocols, which can be found by clicking here and scrolling to page 9 of our remote learning plan. Any classroom used for in-person learning will be in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Education guidelines for room capacity and safe social distancing. We are in the process of determining whether any additional staff would be needed to meet these requirements.
Activities & Athletics
The Illinois High School Association, not individual schools, determines what athletics activities can be held. This fall, the only sports permitted are boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls swimming and diving, and girls tennis. Click here to visit the Athletics page of our website to learn more.
While some club sponsors may find a way to gather in person, those experiences will be the exception. The vast majority of clubs and activities will be held virtually.
No. We will not begin any of those activities in person.
We will conduct teacher evaluations in accordance with state law on evaluations. Specific details pertaining to evaluations in the remote learning environment still need to be negotiated with Faculty Senate, so we aren’t able to share those yet.
Parents should always start with the teacher and attempt to resolve concerns. If you are unable to resolve the issue directly, you should take your concerns to the division head.
To help ensure that the rigor of our curriculum is fully intact this coming fall, and to ensure that we are consistent with state guidelines and other high schools across the state, students will receive letter grades just as they do during the regular school year. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t assume that late work or retests will automatically be accepted. In some classes they may be and in others they may not. Please encourage your students to reach out to their teachers directly if they aren't sure about any grading policies in their individual classes.
Attendance will be recorded and students are expected to attend all remote classes every day. The policy limiting absences to 12 per class per semester has been suspended for the first semester. Parents should email firstname.lastname@example.org if a student needs to be called out of school for any reason.
Health and Safety
Testing will not be required. However, both students and employees will need to administer a daily self-certification health-check and undergo a temperature screening prior to entering the building. Please click here and scroll to page 9 for our health and safety protocols for staff, which also apply to students.
According to the Oak Park Department of Public Health (OPDPH), stating a specific positivity rate on which to base OPRF's regression or advancement to different reopening stages is not possible. We will continue to consult with OPDPH, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and and the Illinois State Board of Education for information on local conditions and guidance on when we can safely move through our stages to full reopening.
We have held a variety of trainings since the spring, including self-paced training for our entire staff last April and several Google classroom, digital citizenship, and curriculum specific webinars over the summer. While teachers are not required to participate in professional development during their noncontractual time over the summer, many of them spent a great deal of time voluntarily taking webinars, doing professional reading, collaborating with other teachers, etc., to learn how to build their remote instruction skills. For the four days prior to the return of students, teachers engaged in a variety of mandatory trainings, focusing variously on differentiation, culturally responsive pedagogy, assessment, technology, and social-emotional learning--all in a remote learning environment. We also have subscribed to EdTechTeam Online, which offers a host of self-paced courses to develop remote instruction skills. We will provide additional professional development throughout the coming school year, and we've provided weekly teacher collaboration time every Wednesday afternoon.
No. Student learning is our core purpose and our first priority. We would never allow a construction process to drive our instructional decision making. Additionally, whether or not students and staff are in the building does not affect the construction schedule for the current project. The South Cafeteria and Student Resource Center are still expected to be completed sometime in winter 2022.