Libertyville, Vernon Hills high schools start hybrid Jan. 19

  • Students and parents from Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 rally in late September to open schools for in-person learning.

      Students and parents from Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 rally in late September to open schools for in-person learning. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Students lined the front row during a rally in late September to open Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools. A hybrid model is set to begin Jan. 19.

      Students lined the front row during a rally in late September to open Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools. A hybrid model is set to begin Jan. 19. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A rally to open Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 to in-person learning was held in late September in downtown Libertyville. Parents have been divided on the topic.

      A rally to open Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 to in-person learning was held in late September in downtown Libertyville. Parents have been divided on the topic. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/24/2020 8:17 PM

Barring a state-ordered closure, Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 will begin hybrid learning Jan. 19.

The unanimous decision by the school board Monday night gives students and the staff more certainty to plan rather than dealing with a seesaw of openings and closings, school officials said.

 

"Are there other dynamics? Of course there are. But, in general, that would be the watermark," Superintendent Prentiss Lea said.

"It plants a flag -- we're coming back to school on the 19th of January," he said.

In early October, the school board approved in-person learning by a 4-3 vote and set Oct. 29 as opening day. But that was paused until Nov. 12 and extended to Nov. 30, based on the Lake County Health Department's warning involving "substantial" community transmission of COVID-19.

Jan. 19 is a Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the start of the second semester for 3,400 students at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools, which constitute District 128.

"I believe that's the right thing to do given the body of evidence we have in front of us," board President Pat Groody said.

Parents have been notified teachers will return to school Jan. 4 to continue teaching remotely following the eSchool schedule. Jan. 6 will be a planning day for teachers, with no school for students.

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Hybrid learning will begin Jan. 19 unless there is an order to close the schools "by the Governor or related authority," parents were told.

"We need to give the kids and the community some certainty," said school board member Kevin Huber. "I don't want to dismiss the metrics -- they're important -- but at the end of the day, we have to get the kids back in school."

Public health agencies can make recommendations based on metrics, such as the positivity rate of the virus, but school districts have the authority to decide whether or how to proceed.

School officials say they have been considering information from many sources and not only numbers from state or local health departments.

"As a board, we're working very hard to evaluate the total body of information available to us," Groody said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That includes information that suggests schools are not a major source in the spread of the virus, he said.

Regional numbers, such as positivity rate, are leveling off, Groody said, and Libertyville and Vernon Hills are faring better than other communities in that regard.

"We are doing quite a bit better than Lake County overall but still well within the remote (learning) region," he said.

Families will be contacted to determine how many students will pursue the hybrid option.

The debate about when to proceed with in-school learning has sparked a rally and divided District 128 parents. Those who want in-class instruction cite the social, emotional and academic toll on students.

The emotional issue has led to social media posts that falsely portray teachers as being in a "cabal" to keep schools from opening, according to Lea.

He said teachers have advocated for health and safety but have not pressed to keep schools closed.

"At no time during those discussions has the (teachers) union said to us, 'We're not coming back to work if you tell us to come back to work,'" Lea said.

"Let's not hang the teachers out to dry, because they don't deserve to be hung out to dry," he said.

Groody said the availability of rapid testing, a vaccine or other developments could change the big picture, but he thought an option for virtual learning will need to be available for the rest of the school year.

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