Du Quoin students will return to class on Aug. 17, and will receive three days of instruction each week, with the other two days reserved for homework, District 300 administrators said Thursday night.
Superintendent Matt Hickam unwrapped an extensive, yet cautious, plan for reopening school next month that requires masks for all students, teachers and staff, incorporates social distancing and calls for every person to be temperature checked every day.
Under the plan -- which covers only the first three weeks of the 2020-21 school year -- students will physically be in school two days a week and Fridays will be dedicated to remote learning.
The 1,400 students will be split into two groups. One group will attend school Mondays and Wednesdays; the second group will attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All students will attend remotely on Fridays.
Hickam said the two days students are not getting active instruction should be dedicated to homework.
He said he is hopeful that COVID cases will taper off enough after Labor Day to permit students to be back in school on a more regular basis.
Hickam said, however, that some kind of "blended" schedule will probably be the norm, rather than the exception, for untold weeks to come.
He said the wearing of masks inside the school buildings will not be negotiable.
"Being responsible for 1,400 students we have to prioritize their health and safety," Hickam said. "We won't be able to be all things to all people, and circumstances will dictate what we can do."
No plan can be devised that will eliminate all risk of COVID-19, he said. But cutting the student population in half to start the year will help, as it will enable students to be socially distanced in classrooms and for lunch periods.
Cory Robbins, the District 300 business manager, said right now there is no plan for offering hot lunches, but that they are working on it.
Hickam said while the "A" and "B" groups of students will be assigned alphabetically, the district is willing to work with families who have multiple students enrolled and who need a different arrangement.
He said school buses will have assigned seating.
Recognizing that not every Du Quoin family has ready access to the internet or to devices, District 300 will have a Chromebook loan program. He said the school buildings and other buildings around town will be internet "hot spots," where families can get close enough to use the Wi-Fi.
Board member Crystal Harsy said Thursday she thinks some families, fearful of the virus, will want to opt out of sending their children to school buildings at all.
Hickam said the district will work on remote learning plans with families that demonstrate they have legitimate underlying health concerns -- which could include a child who is immuno-compromised, or even a family that has a frail elderly grandparent living with them. Students in those cases may need individual education plans.
But he said it's not possible for the district to accommodate a family that has no health issue, but is politically opposed to masks, for example.
"Having an 'opinion' will not be enough to keep your child at home," Hickam said.
• Full coverage of Du Quoin's back-to-school plan will be in the print edition of the Tuesday, July 21 Du Quoin Call.