More students, more often: In-person capacity to expand by mid-April


Malcolm Taylor

Days when students are allowed to return to campus will increase, according to interim director David Magill.

Peter Pu, News Editor

Changes in guidelines for safe social distance mean the hybrid learning program will expand to accommodate high school students in-person half the time by mid-April and full-time in-person after seniors leave for May Project on May 10, according to Interim Director David Magill. Distance learning will remain an option for those who have chosen it.

The in-person capacity will also accommodate all middle school students in-person by mid-April. Full-time in-person learning for lower school students begins March 29.

The changes come in response to the Illinois Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools, which now defines social distancing as three to six feet for students and fully vaccinated staff.

“We started out with the hybrid model that exists right now, which is only about 25%, and everybody knows that that is too little,” Mr. Magill said in an interview. “We want to bring back more, and so we’re looking at a way to do that, and with the three to six feet, we think we can.”

Students with more time in-person will still follow the same schedule of classes as in distance learning, according to Mr. Magill. The goal is to return to the pre-pandemic schedule for the fall. 

According to Mr. Magill, a particular challenge of expanding the in-person capacity was accommodating social distancing at lunch time. Previous guidelines limited space capacities to 50 people, but under the revised guidelines, space capacity is determined only by the ability to accommodate social distancing. 

“That changed with the new regulations and guidelines from the state, so there is no cap,” Mr. Magill said. “You just have to divide the square footage by six feet, and that’s how many people you can get.”

More details can be found in the March 15 email from Mr. Magill to the community, which is below.

Dear Lab Families, 

In my message to you last Wednesday, I shared that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) had just issued joint revised public health guidance for schools. We are pleased to see that this IDPH/ISBE guidance opens up the possibility of bringing back more Lab students for in-person education. Most significantly, the guidance recommends that schools can hold in-person classes at 3′ to 6′ of social distance for students and fully vaccinated staff.  

At Lab, we have already had multiple conversations with our principals, facilities staff, and other administrators to envision how we might further evolve our current plans and expand in-person learning this school year. Last Thursday, I, along with Lab’s four principals and members of the N-12 Working Group, met with University leaders and the University’s Epidemiological Consulting Team to seek counsel regarding the revised guidance. I have also been in dialogue with our Faculty Association leaders to keep them apprised of the guidance and related implications. 

We want to see our students back in school. On March 29, all Lower School students will return to full-time, in person education. Beginning in early to mid April, Lab will bring back all Middle School students for full-time, in-person education and also increase the number of in-person school days for all High School students. Our goal is to have all of Lab’s students back in school for full-time, in-person education on or around May 10. We will continue to run a fully remote program through the remainder of this school year for families who have chosen that option. 

We are very excited about bringing more students back and have started making necessary preparations. Principals and faculty implementation teams are determining the order in which to move students and teachers back to their classroom “homes” from the spaces they have used during the pandemic. This will include reconfiguring grades N–2 into full class cohorts and returning grades 1–2 to Earl Shapiro Hall. We need to allot time for teachers to pack, unpack, and set-up new classrooms. We are also re-examining room capacities and scheduling for large, shared spaces. This will require thoughtful planning and close coordination among administrators and faculty across divisions, and we will work in a careful and efficient way.  

I want to acknowledge that this has been a very difficult year for everyone. Our spring break is a critical time for people to rest and recharge. Our teachers have been tireless in their commitment, our students have worked hard and under challenging circumstances, and our parents and families have been extraordinarily supportive and resilient—we know how valuable spring break will be for the entire Lab community. 

I will be in touch with you very shortly—as will your principals—as we finalize plans for a return to in-person school this academic year. Lastly, as I hope I have made clear, we remain committed to bringing all students back for full-time, in-person education this fall. 

Thank you to every member of the Lab community for your partnership and ongoing support. 


David Magill