August 10th, 2020 2:52 PM
By Bob Skolnik
The teachers union at Riverside-Brookfield High School is taking a strong stand against the use of a third-party provider for remote learning and has harshly criticized District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis for his decision to use a company called Apex Learning to provide computerized instruction for those who choose 100-percent remote learning.
A press release issued Friday by the executive board of the Riverside Brookfield Education Association (RBEA) said that the decision to use Apex was not made by the COVID-19 transition committee the school had established, but by Skinkis alone.
"In no way, shape or form is Apex a proper remote learning option," the RBEA press release stated. "Apex does not include human instruction or interaction. It is unacceptable to the RBEA that Dr. Skinkis provided Apex as the only option for families that chose remote learning. For Dr. Skinkis to simply 'hand off' students and families who made the remote learning choice – many for serious health reasons—is disappointing and sad. The students in the community deserve better than that."
RBHS parent Peggy Rios, who works as a kindergarten teacher in Lombard, said that when she asked fellow teachers about Apex she heard many negative comments.
"From what I understand there's no instructor or teacher interaction at all," said Rios, who is the mother of two RBHS students from Brookfield.
Rios' kids chose the hybrid option, although Rios is concerned about her children attending school in person in the midst of a pandemic.
Skinkis said the fully remote learning option was added at the last minute because of a state mandate issued on July 23. Earlier in July, Skinkis had said that RBHS did not plan to offer a fully remote option.
"The committee never intended to have a third-party provider," Skinkis said. "This option was implemented to comply with the governor's mandate."
Compromise solution offered
On Aug. 7, the school offered a compromise option, sending out a letter and video to families which said that students could sign up for the hybrid option and not attend the in-person classes.
"The committee believes that students who cannot attend the in-person portion of the hybrid model could still be successful in the hybrid model by attending the virtual days of instruction and working with individual teachers during their virtual office hours to make up the work they missed from the in-person sessions," said the letter sent to RBHS students and families.
Students and families have until the end of the day of Monday, Aug. 10 to contact the school to switch from the Apex model to the modified hybrid model where students won't attend the in-person portion of the classes.
That option did not impress Marty Sloan, a math and social studies teacher who is a member of the RBEA executive board and the president-elect of the RBEA.
"It is still only half of the education offered to the families that chose to learn in person," Sloan said in an email. "We are incentivizing families to take a health risk to receive a more complete education.
These families are being done a disservice from the district because they were never offered a legitimate fully remote option from the start. …
"If this is how disorganized our plan is for likely at-risk families, I can only imagine the logistical mess the district will be in if students are allowed in the building August 17."
Skinkis said that he was not concerned about the RBEA press release.
"I just think that's part of the RBEA's propaganda," Skinkis said. "Myself and the administration and the committee have worked extremely hard this summer. If anybody thinks that they can handle a global pandemic better, feel free. It's not my responsibility to respond to what the RBEA puts out."
Some RBHS teachers are concerned and upset about having to teach in person this month while many other local high schools are starting the school year with fully remote learning including Lyons Township High School, Morton High School, Oak Park and River Forest High School and Proviso High School District 209.
Skinkis said RBEA members are angry because they are upset about the return to in-person learning.
He said that other local schools such as Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South High School, Reavis High School, Lemont High School, Ridgewood High School and Downers Grove North and South High Schools are also offering hybrid plans this fall which combine in person and remote learning.
"We believe RB is small enough and flexible enough that we can start in hybrid," Skinkis said. "There's no playbook for running a school during a global pandemic. We're doing the best we can to get students back on campus and get some in-person learning. However, if this process cannot be done efficiently and safely, we will resort back to remote learning until those variables can be figured out."
Skinkis said he will deliver a report to the District 208 Board of Education at its meeting on Aug. 11 and will relay the concerns he has heard from teachers and families.
"My message to the board tomorrow will be one day, one week at a time," Skinkis said. "It has to be handled one day at a time. There isn't anybody that can give you certainty when you're dealing with a global pandemic, on either side."
The final decision on whether to continue to offer the hybrid model or switch to fully remote learning will be up the school board, Skinkis said.
"I work for the board," Skinkis said. "[On Aug. 11] I'm going to give a presentation and I'm going to give all the facts to the board, and I'm going to say to the board, 'Does the board still want to pursue an in person or does the board want me to pull back?'"