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Task force learns of back-to-school models

By Staff | Jun 11, 2020

A few hybrid options were presented to the K-12 Pandemic Task Force during its second meeting Wednesday afternoon that might have students alternating days of going to school and participating in live distance learning.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said their goal is to open at 100 percent, as typical in past years, but if conditions don’t allow that to happen, his team has come up with some alternatives.

“Lots of hard work has been put into this model,” he said at the beginning of a two-hour Zoom meeting. “It’s really incredible work that they have been putting in here, time and effort.”

The meeting began by sharing the results of surveys the community and teachers have taken about distance learning.

The first chart, an English-language survey, shared information regarding the level of comfort with students returning to in-person instruction. Those comfortable with minimal, or no concerns, showed elementary at 35.24 percent, middle school at 34.7 percent and high school at 36.13 percent. Those not at all comfortable was 20.22 percent for elementary, 21.86 percent for middle school and 21.76 for high school. Those comfortable with concerns was 26.73 percent for elementary, 24.73 for middle school and 24.23 for high school.

The same questions, for the non-English language survey, the results showed that those not at all comfortable was 42.55 percent for elementary, 42.14 percent for middle schools, 46.03 percent for high school students. Those comfortable with concerns was 44.38 percent for elementary, 42.82 percent for middle school and .08 percent for high school. Those comfortable with minimal or no concerns is 5.02 percent for elementary, 4.33 percent for middle school and 5.37 percent for high school.

For staff members returning to work on normal schedule, 15.83 percent said they were not comfortable at all, 20.06 percent said were somewhat comfortable, 33.36 percent were comfortable with concerns, and 30.74 percent were comfortable with minimal or no concerns.

Another chart showed the preferred model if modifications were needed, which resulted in 38.20 percent of English-language survey families stating they would like two shifts, and 33.22 percent of non-English-language survey families wanting the same. Alternative days resulted in 34.30 percent of English-language survey families preferring this and 32.28 percent of non-English-language survey families. Full virtual resulted in 16.61 percent of English-language survey families preferring this, while 27.20 of non-English language survey families wanting this model. Alternative weeks was another option, which resulted in 10.89 percent of English-language survey families and 6.81 percent of non-English language survey families.

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said over the last few weeks, and months, staff has created multiple options after researching extensively what is taking place across the country. He said the different models are very similar to approaches other districts are using.

“We have to do what is best for our students and our county,” Spiro said. “Our goal is to have everyone back in person. What could some of those health standards look like? What happened if I was a family and was not ready. We want to be able to have a plan in place to allow everyone to come back and let families continue a virtual option if they choose to keep their children home for a period of time.”

The first model presented, Pre-K to 5-fifth grade students, offered a schedule that would decrease the academic dip and instructional loss that the district might be expecting from distance learning, all face-to-face instruction. Spiro said all classes have to be refigured and all furniture needs to be moved that do not meet the needs for students.

“All desks have to be spread out and students have to be social distanced,” Spiro said.

The students would remain with their teacher in the same classroom and such subjects as art, music and STEM, would be rotated into the classroom to minimize movement inside the building. Lunch would also be in the classroom.

Spiro said if there is a student that gets COVID-19 they would be able to identify what class that student is in and minimize contact as much as possible. He said every school would work out a plan to make sure teachers get lunch and the planning they need.

Another option is a hybrid model for high and middle school students seventh through 12th grade.

In this model, all sixth grade students will return to school for face-to-face instruction. Also ESE, 504, ELL/LY, lowest 25 percent and credit deficient students would receive the most face-to-face instruction.

Spiro said seventh through 12th grade students would have a combination of face-to-face instruction, as well as distance learning. The distance learning, Spiro said would be different than what students have experienced in the last nine weeks. The live distance learning would follow the normal schedule based around bell times of their schools.

“Distance learning classes would mirror real time face-to-face instruction. Students are engaged with real time digital distance learning,” he said.

Those students doing face-to-face would be in classrooms that are arranged in close proximity to allow for grade levels to be in the same hallway and closest classrooms. Schools would also develop one way student traffic, staggered classroom transitions and elimination of student gatherings to socialize. Students would also eat in the classroom, or if spacing is available, in the cafeteria.

Within the hybrid mode for middle and high school, four options were presented.

The first option includes students rotating on an AB, AB, C schedule, which means student one would receive in person instruction on Monday, while student two would have virtual learning. The following day the students would switch, which would continue until Thursday. On Friday, both students would do live distance learning, in order for the schools to do a deep cleaning.

Spiro said the day that both students are at home with virtual learning could change, to say, Wednesday, so a deep cleaning could be done in the middle of the week.

The second option would have students coming to school two consecutive days, while student two would have two days of virtual learning, before it would be switched. On Friday, again, both students would have virtual learning for deep cleaning. Again that deep cleaning day is flexible.

The third option would include alternating weeks. In other words student one would have in person instruction Monday through Friday before switching to virtual learning the second week.

The fourth option of the hybrid middle, high school model allows a student over a two week time to see teachers face-to-face for three days. Spiro said student one has face-to-face instruction Monday and Tuesday before flipping to distance learning on Wednesday and then on Friday student one comes back into school while student two does live distance learning.

Spiro said they would try to group families, extended families together in the hybrid models in terms of face-to-face instruction and distance learning.

Spiro said there is also an option for parents who wish to keep their students in distance learning to enroll in the Lee Virtual program.

He said these models are challenging for teachers and they limit the type of student engagement, but we are in different times and have to think differently.

“We want to maximize as much face-to-face instruction as we can for our students. These are starting points for this task force to look at and consider,” Spiro said.

Spiro said when school resumes in August their sole focus before any academics begins is to address the social and emotional needs of students and staff, as a result of the trauma caused with distance learning. He said they have trained assistant principals and principals on trauma and how to address concerns with children.

Chief Operations Officer Dr. Kenneth Savage also spoke on transportation issues. He said their largest buses can accommodate 77 passengers. He said if they were to observe the strictest six feet apart between students they could get nine occupied seats, with a possible 12 to 13 if they had siblings in the same family.

“Transporting nine to 12 students at over $4.04 in terms of operating a bus, that is a pretty substantial cost and not efficient to transport students,” Savage said. “School buses are not designed in a COVID style environment.”

He said no matter what model they run, they want to make sure buses are clean and cleaned after every route, which would include appropriate training.

Savage also touched upon health and safety key considerations. The permanent and semi permanent measures include plexiglass shielding in front reception areas, teacher areas, as well as other high risk areas with significant number of traffic. Plastic curtains to create separation and hands free water fountains to diminish a common touched service are also considerations.

“They are all under evaluation for cost and effectiveness,” Savage said.

Disposable measures and hygiene protocols include masks, facial coverings, gloves and protective garments, as well as hand sanitizer and hand-washing guidelines.

Routine surface cleaning, inspection procedures and deep cleaning are also considerations, as well as air quality — HVAC system, indoor air flow and outdoor air.

The meeting also touched upon screening protocols, such as parent expectations, self-reporting expectations, temperature/symptom check procedures and testing procedures. Response protocols are other key considerations of what needs to take place when there are suspected cases, presumed positive case and confirmed case.

Adkins said they recognize that the recommendations that come from different agencies are changing, and the district has to be agile in responding to those changes. He said they would like to survey the community again because not only will guidelines and recommendations change, but perception will as well.

The next meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 17.