Elgin school district approves virtual ‘learning academy’ for unvaccinated, medically exempt students


ELGIN, Ill. – School districts are quickly trying to plan for the fall now that the Illinois Board of Education is calling for a return to daily in-person instruction 

“I’m struggling a little bit with the narrow, narrow, narrow, focus of students that are going to be allowed in this distance learning academy, but they still have a significant need or reason to be a part of this distance learning academy,” said one U46 school board member last night.

After some discussion at a meeting last night, school board members for Elgin-based district U-46 voted to approve plans for a distance learning academy for next year. But the virtual option will only be available to unvaccinated students and have medical conditions that put them at higher risk from complications from COVID-19. 

The move comes after the Illinois State Board of Education adopted a resolution requiring all schools to return to in-person learning in the fall with limited exceptions.

School District U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders says the district is moving forward with the best option that they can successfully handle. 

“I hope families understanding our challenge is to build a program that we can sustain and actually manage appropriately,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns if we were to open it for anybody. The challenge of trying to set up individual learning plans for every student, making sure that if they were in distance learning last year that they were successful in it. There’s a lot of requirements in the state statute that make it difficult to implement beyond students that have the medical need and can’t get vaccinated.”

U-46 is the state’s second-largest school district and more than half of its more than 30,000 students are currently remote learning. The COVID-19 vaccine is currently only available for kids ages 12 and up.

“We’re not alone on this,” Sanders said. “We actually mimicked or mirrored some of the surrounding districts that have taken a similar approach to distance learning next year as an idea of at least a starting place given the lack of flexibility.”

A spokesperson for Naperville District 203 sent WGN a statement saying they’re looking forward to additional guidance regarding return to in-person learning plans.

An updated Q and A sheet just posted on the ISBE website says school districts would only be required to provide remote learning for students who are not eligible to be vaccinated and are under a quarantine order. The Q and A sheet does say there is flexibility. For example, districts could permit remote learning for unvaccinated students who live with someone who is immunocompromised. 

Parents in district U-46 can apply for the distance learning academy through June 2 but not all classes will be available and students will not be able to opt-out of the remote learning in the middle of the school year. 


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