COVID-19 » FAQ's

FAQ's

As our Blended@Beacon plan for Fall 2020 was created, the focus was on balancing the needs of our students and their families, our staff and faculty and their families, and the life of the school itself. We appreciate your feedback and questions, and your input is strengthening our plan. Following are some of the most frequently asked questions. We welcome further questions at covidquestions@beaconacademychicago.org.
 
Why did Beacon Academy decide to start the school year with fully remote learning?
We made the decision based on a confluence of factors. Our COVID-19 Task Force was tracking a worrisome upward trend of infection rates in the Chicagoland area and monitoring conditions around positivity rates, hospital capacity, trend lines, and emerging science around transmission. After multiple meetings, we decided that the safest and most prudent way to begin school on August 31 was with 100% remote learning. While there is no single metric that triggered our decision, top among our reasons were rising numbers of COVID-19 infection rates and reduced hospital bed capacity in our area, results of our consultation with Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department (EHHSD), and the recognition that because our population comes from a broad geographic area, students often must travel by public transportation. Our task force decided that a responsible approach was to create opportunities for students and teachers to interact safely in-person, in other ways.

How long will our students be fully remote, and when will you revisit the decision?
Although this is not the start of school that any of us hoped for, please know that the situation is temporary and not forever. The Task Force will continue to meet weekly as it monitors data trends. As conditions improve and we’re ready to transition to the Blended@Beacon hybrid learning model, we’ll be sure to keep the community apprised. Meanwhile, we continue to prepare the building so that we can transition to our Blended@Beacon plan quickly when it is safer for all. We appreciate your support and look forward to seeing you in person as soon as the COVID Task Force feels the time is right.

How much notice will we have when conditions are right for the Blended@Beacon hybrid learning program?
We will give everyone at least two days’ notice, and likely more. In all cases, we will continue to offer 100% remote options.

Why are we “assuming everyone has COVID at any time?”
Because there is no way to control the behavior of everyone, we need to assume everyone in our community may come into contact with the virus at work, at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, on public transportation, or doing any other necessary task. Even if our community practices safety, it’s likely we may interact with someone who does not, through no fault of our own. There is no such thing as a Beacon Bubble. The best way to protect our community as much as possible is to use the safety precautions recommended to avoid transmitting the virus -- mainly mask wearing, hand hygiene, and physical distancing of at least six feet from others.

What happens if I travel out of state or to a State of Illinois “hot spot” for more than 24 hours?
We are asking anyone in our community who travels outside the State of Illinois or to a COVID-19 hot spot within Illinois for more than 24 hours to self-quarantine for 14 days and engage in remote learning during that time. We recognize this is difficult and appreciate your support of our community’s health and well-being. You can find regularly updated information on Illinois hot spots at https://cookcountypublichealth.org/.

What will our COVID-19 Coordinator do?
Our new COVID-19 Coordinator will ensure we meet and exceed health standards set by local, state and federal entities. In addition to overseeing our new safety procedures, they will train faculty and students on safety measures; manage wellness checks at the building; oversee Beacon Academy’s Wellness Suite and oversee protocols if community members become ill; track pandemic trends; consult with local health officials; and work with Beacon Academy’s COVID-19 Task Force as conditions change. Parents who have questions about any health-related issues can email covidquestions@beaconacademyil.org.
 
How are decisions about whether to make changes to in-person learning, or about students who live in areas that become “hot spots”?
Beacon Academy’s goal is to give students a meaningful educational experience, while putting in place as many safeguards as possible. Our plan maintains flexibility so that we can change in person learning practices if data-driven feedback tells us that risks outweigh benefits. Our COVID-19 Task Force is working in consultation with Evanston’s Department of Health and Human Services (EDHHS) to create ongoing policies and ensure our practices are as up-to-date as possible. While there is no zero-risk in-person learning, the safeguards we have put in place are considered extremely conservative by the EDHHS. Also, these local public health officials are monitoring caseloads in each of our students’ home communities. Their expertise in disease management and contact tracing will provide expert guidance, should we face future decisions about whether to change in-person learning practices and policies.

Will you still offer school-based SAT and ACT testing?
We plan to offer both SAT and ACT testing in the school building, and are currently working to ensure these exams are conducted in the safest way possible. We will reach out to all students who registered for an ACT/SAT test to confirm details.

Will we receive new requirements for IB classes? Will there be IB exams this year?
This year’s IB curriculum will meet all IB requirements, incorporates dedicated IB HL blocks into the schedule, and operates under the assumption that IB exams will be held this school year. However, we’re still waiting to hear directly from IB administrators. We’ll communicate the news as soon as possible. Meanwhile, know that last year, 100% of our students who took IB exams earned diplomas.

How will you handle science labs? Can we use the building for science labs?
We are not planning to conduct science labs in the building until it is safer for all classes. Our science teachers are getting creative and looking for ways to perform science labs at home, developing demonstrations and other work-arounds. Often those same simple labs we’re all familiar with can be translated, scaled and made safe to do at home.

What about art supplies?
Thanks to generous donors within our community, we’ve been able to assemble packets of art supplies that will be sent home to all art students.

How will Beacon Academy handle student-directed conferences with parents?
To accommodate class time needs, we will not carve out two whole days for conferences this semester. Instead, we will schedule conferences mid-semester using the same sign-up approach over a two week-long period. Teachers are always available to speak with students and parents, so there is no need to wait for conferences if you’d like to discuss something. Please reach out directly to teachers to schedule a meeting.

What does “Care of the Environment” mean? What does it mean to “clean your workspace?”
While we have professionals cleaning the building at night and at two designated times while students are in class, we are asking students to wipe down their work spaces at the start and end of every class. This ensures we’re vigilant about minimizing virus transmission. Faculty will engage in deeper cleaning of high touch areas in their classrooms like door handles and light switches. Spray bottles of surface cleaner and paper towels will be supplied in each classroom.

Based on what I see on social media, I’m not sure I trust my peers to follow the safety rules. What is Beacon doing to ensure compliance?
Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and we’ll continually stress our community interdependence. Teachers and staff have systems in place to regularly remind students of the importance of mask wearing at all times, hand hygiene, physical distancing, self-screening for symptoms and daily temperature checks. Eventually, these important practices will become habits. We will proactively engage with students who are having trouble following the rules, but repeat violations will not be tolerated. Repeat offenders will be asked to move to 100% remote learning.
 
Do I have to wear a mask?
Everyone is required to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth at all times, while in the school building. Students eating snacks in designated areas will be asked not to speak if their masks are off. A physician, physician assistant or advanced practice nurse may provide a note indicating a medical reason for which a student is unable to wear a mask. A face shield with a drape is acceptable in these cases. Remote learning is always an option for students who cannot use a face covering.
 
What do you mean when you say “teachers will toggle between classrooms?” How do you decide which students go where?
Students will be assigned classrooms and seats for every in-person class period. The average class size at beacon is 15, and after careful mapping we know the average socially distanced classroom at Beacon holds eight students. To offer the same number of classes with the same number of teachers, we are scheduling one class in two side-by-side classrooms. Each classroom will have a teacher; the primary teacher will be in one, and an assisting teacher will be in the other. The primary teacher will lecture in one classroom while live-streaming to the classroom next door, as well as to remote learners. But lectures comprise only a part of each in-person class. Teachers’ immersive lesson plans include labs, small group exercises and discussions, and projects that allow them to go back and forth between classrooms and engage with all students.

How do we complete IB Hours with the Blended@Beacon schedule?
Through the combination of in-person class time, synchronous remote learning, 1:1 or small group focus time, and asynchronous learning assignments, students will easily engage with the material for the requisite hours, for both HL and SL courses, just as they might in accredited fully online IB programs. Indeed, the variety of learning formats represented in course hours will give our IB students the opportunity to flex the independent and self-directed learning muscles that are a key goal of both Montessori pedagogy and IB curriculum.
 
This system seems complex. What other options did you consider?
We evaluated multiple schedule options including a full schedule of on-site classes, a fully remote learning schedule, half-day on site options, learning cohorts, and alternating week options. We also considered risks involved with each of these options. Based on consultation with our COVID- 19 Task Force and public health officials, the schedule we created offers the best blend of in person class time, while ensuring we protect our staff and faculty who assume more risk than
students. The current schedule also allows our community members to choose 100% remote learning if needed, and allows us to easily transition to fully remote learning if mandated by state or local officials.

Will Beacon offer any classes outdoors?
We’ve always held outdoor classes when weather and curriculum allow. We will continue this practice at the discretion of teachers, provided we can maintain our staggered entry and exit and other safety protocols.

Does travel for one in-person class a day make sense? It will take me longer to commute than I’ll be in class.
Our schedule is designed this way to ensure that distancing, deep cleaning, and other safety practices are followed at all times. It’s up to families and students to determine if the commute is worth it, but our students tell us they’re eager to be in the classroom with their peers again, even if it’s not for an entire school day.

What, exactly, is asynchronous learning?
Asynchronous learning means students cover the same content at different, independent times from their peers. Homework is a great example of asynchronous learning. With our Blended@Beacon approach, asynchronous hours will be used for work that is independent anyway. This might include homework assignments, paper editing, reading, or working on an interactive lab at home. With asynchronous learning, students are free to decide when they will complete the work and may even be able to use these hours to help younger siblings with schoolwork, free up bandwidth when the household experiences high demand, and help out with family needs during the day.

Has focus time changed? Previously, students could gather in one place for a few hours a week to do homework, work on group projects, or ask their teachers questions. How does it work now?
The objective of focus time - to give students the ability to engage deeply in uninterrupted work - remains the same, and gives students an opportunity to complete assignments and meet with counselors, teachers, and students. While most Focus Time will take place during remote learning, we have added more hours to the schedule, in order to allow for more one-on-one time with teachers and counselors, and for group projects.

Will remote learning be similar to what our students experienced last spring?
While the remote learning schedule will be similar to last spring, our faculty have been working hard this summer to make the content more engaging for our students. After many hours of professional development seminars and workshops, our teachers have discovered many creative Ways to maximize personal connections with students and make remote learning fun.

What does 100% remote learning look like?
This summer, we added cameras and equipment to every classroom. Faculty will live stream every class, so that students at home can participate at the same time as their in-person classmates.
 
Will Beacon Academy offer student-led conferences this year? They were cancelled last year.
We offer student-led conferences remotely, but will not make up conferences from last year. Please reach out to individual teachers if you want to discuss any class-related issues.

Are clubs and sports at the same time? How can I do more than one or two things?
Students can participate in more than one activity, but they may have to prioritize and communicate conflicts. Currently clubs run Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30-3:30pm, with theatre and athletics starting at 4pm. Nothing is perfect during this difficult time and we encourage students to consider their interests and choose those most valuable to them.
 
Why aren’t you allowing sports and clubs to meet on academic days? I’m concerned that my student will have to be at school five days a week.
Along with safety, providing an excellent academic experience is our priority at Beacon Academy. After carefully mapping our space, we determined that we can safely host 120 students in the building at any one time. Offering sports and clubs on in-person class days placed a burden on the number of academic classes we could offer.

How much time is there to travel to practice after virtual class ends on Tuesdays and Thursdays?
Class ends at 2:30pm and practice starts at 4pm. That gives everyone an hour and a half for travel.
 
Where can I find out about clubs and service learning for Fall 2020?
Clubs and an innovative online theatre program will launch about six weeks after the start of school. Service learning options will be offered too. Stay tuned for more information!

How many students will be in the building at one time during hybrid learning?
About 120, or roughly half the student body.

Why didn’t we seek additional space for in-person learning?
We investigated renting other spaces, including Beacon Academy’s original space on Davis street. With safety as our top priority, we found that managing transitions between two buildings would increase risks with marginal benefit. And, to protect the safety of teachers, each of them is on campus only one day a week, regardless of our number of classrooms. With live-streaming capabilities that allow for remote learning, we did not see a significant benefit in adding additional
space, relative to risks and costs.
 
What is the “layover” space for?
While about 85% of our students will have only one or two back-to-back classes and then leave the building for the day, some students might choose to take two classes in the same subject. We have identified a limited number of layover spaces for these students to work while they wait between classes. If space allows, we might be able to accommodate students who need to wait for a sibling or a ride, or who need a place to eat a snack. These spaces are physically distanced and are not hang out spots for groups of students.

Can we buy snacks in the Rotary café or Sundry shop?
Beacon will not have access to Rotary International’s cafeteria or the Sundry shop. If you need a snack, please bring non-perishable food and beverages from home. We will not provide access to refrigerators or microwaves.

How do you plan to manage the usual chaos in the hallways?
With clear and friendly signage, one-way routes through the building, and by releasing classes at staggered times to manage volume, students will find it easy to maintain social distancing. It’s definitely a new norm, but we’re confident everyone will get comfortable with the practices quickly.

What happens in a 30-minute passing period?
Care of the Environment and sequenced release from classrooms are factored into this 30-minute passing period. Students will be asked to surface clean their personal work spaces before and after each class. Sequenced release will minimize numbers in the halls and allow for the new rule of one person in the bathroom at a time. The upside to these periods is that they will give students and teachers informal time to interact and connect with each other, while staying safely distanced.

If I have Focus Time before or after a class, am I allowed to go home and come back?
No, students may not return after leaving the building. Open campus is not possible during the pandemic, because we need to follow strict safety practices associated with entering and exiting the building and be prepared for contact tracing if necessary. Once students have entered the school building, they must stay for the remainder of their in-person learning day.
 
Can I stay after class to see my friends or stay for a free period?
No, we are not offering free periods at this time, nor may students stay in the building to socialize. When students have completed classes for the day, they will be asked to leave immediately. We don’t have the physical space to safely host students who are not in class. However, in-person learning gives students opportunities for social interaction, and our program provides that in a safe and supervised way. We do have a limited number of layover spaces for students who are also in afternoon classes, or waiting for a sibling. Layover students must be scheduled.
 
If there is a major COVID-19 outbreak or if Illinois re-institutes shelter-in-place, will you cancel school?
We will not cancel school, but we will revert to fully remote learning. We will continue to follow State of Illinois recommendations for a return to fully remote learning. We are prepared to quickly adapt to any changing circumstances, including outbreaks, state-mandated closures, teacher absences and changing family choices.
 
What will happen if someone at Beacon becomes COVID-19 positive?
We will notify the entire school community in the event that a student/faculty/staff member has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Closer contacts will be informed of any need to learn/teach remotely for two weeks after exposure. We will work with public health authorities and our COVID Task Force to determine appropriate contact tracing, testing, and follow-up.

Did you consider busing students, and what do you think about all the students who take public transportation?
Beacon Academy has always left transportation decisions up to families and will continue to do so. We recognize many students and teachers use public transportation to and from school, and view it as an essential service to our community. Metra and the CTA have put safety policies in place to reduce transmission of the virus. For more information, visit their websites at metrarail.com/coronavirus and transitchicago.com/coronavirus. While taking public transportation might increase risk of exposure to the virus, it is impossible for us to control what happens outside the school building. That is why we assume that anyone at any time can be infected with COVID-19, and our state-of-the-art safety practices protect against transmission within our building, as much as possible. The fully remote learning option is always available on a day-to-day basis for families facing transportation hurdles or concerns.
 
Changing the schedule every day makes planning carpools difficult. Can we change schedules so they’re more predictable on a daily basis?
After carefully considering options, we believe this schedule best serves the needs of our students and prioritizes safety and academics. We thank you for your flexibility and always offer fully remote learning options when in-person learning doesn’t fit your schedule.

More answers
We don’t have all the answers yet but will continue to provide updates as we drill down on policy and practices. If you have any questions we haven’t answered or want to discuss our decisions, please contact covidquestions@beaconacademychicago.org.