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Panel recommends in-school classes for PreK-6th grade

By Staff | Jun 25, 2020

The K-12 Pandemic Task Force has approved four of the five subcommittee recommendations, which includes PreK-sixth grade students returning to full in-person instruction, while seventh-eighth grade students will return to a hybrid model in August.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said this is a local decision with some really good recommendations.

The subcommittee members are very knowledgeable about each area and spent a lot of time and thought about the recommendations, he said.

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said the instructional continuity subcommittee spent a solid three hours Monday night talking about various hybrid models through rich conversation

“The Instructional Model Subcommittee recommends that all PreK-6th grade students return to full in-person instruction, Monday through Friday, for the 2020-2021 school year following a cohort model,” he said.

The cohort model would keep the same group of students together all day with electives traveling to the classroom to work with the students. The sixth graders would group teams close together to eliminate travel though the building.

Spiro said the rationale behind this model provides consistent academic instruction for the students, also reducing interaction with other students while providing supervision of primary aged children as families go back to work in the community.

The subcommittee “also recommended that seventh-12th grade students follow a hybrid model 2 with Wednesday bring a day of virtual learning for all assigned classes, expect for those students who have been identified to attend daily (ESE, 504, ELL/LY, lowest 25 percent, and credit deficient.”

Spiro said student one comes to school in person Monday and Tuesday for the second hybrid model while student two stays home for live virtual classes. He said on Wednesday all students will have live virtual learning, so the schools can undergo a deep cleaning for the second batch of cohort students. Student two will have in person instruction on Thursday and Friday while student one stays home for live virtual classes.

Wednesday would be a shorter bell schedule and students would see all of their classes that day.

Spiro said the rationale behind the hybrid model two is to provide more social emotional learning check-ins.

“We have said all along that we are very concerned about the mental wellness of our students and staff, so the subcommittee really felt like this gives schools a chance to check-in regularly with their students and provide ongoing support for our families and students needs outside of academics,” Spiro said.

He said for secondary students, the rationale the subcommittee used was allowing students with block schedule to have in-person contact with each student, each week at least once.

Adkins said there will be flexibility in what their expectations are, which may not be at the same rate as previous years, particularly as they get used to the new environment. He said principals, teachers and staff need to be very comfortable with student progress.

“We have to be very flexible as we learn much more of how effective this new model will be,” Adkins said.

Spiro said the subcommittee also wanted to make Lee Virtual School assessable to any family and student who wants to remain in distance learning. Those students can enroll in Lee Virtual School for a minimum of one semester and would not lose their seat at the school in which they are enrolled.

In addition, the subcommittee emphasized that all the levels would be exposed to safety and health protocols. Spiro said the subcommittee also recommends that the superintendent and pandemic team would have ongoing conversations with health agencies to determine when it would be most appropriate to return to full in-person instruction for all PreK-12 students.

He went on to say that the subcommittee also recommends that in the event that school buildings cannot open and/or need to close, the instruction would occur via live distance learning for all students.

Eleven committee members voted in favor of the instructional continuity recommendation and seven opposed the recommendation. There are 27 task force committee members, which all did not attend the Zoom meeting.

Brenda Clark, a parent, said she did not agree with the hybrid model for middle and high schoolers because they are the most impressionable and most distracted.

“I think it is a recipe for disaster,” she said.

Chief Operations Officer Dr. Kenneth Savage said the transportation subcommittee met Tuesday morning and discussed four different options. He said it is a balancing act of health and safety risk against effective service and the scale of service.

“As you serve more students you are naturally inviting additional risk into the equation,” Savage said. “The four options kind of mirrored that risk profile.”

One question explored was should masks be worn, which showed that 40 percent strongly recommended and defer to the local health official recommendations and 20 percent said they should be required.

The subcommittee was unanimous in recommending option four, which has extreme limited social distancing, which most school districts are considering as their primary plan.

The standard capacity option “is to provide transportation services with limited distancing between students with an emphasis on face covers/masks and other protective measure (sanitizer, air flow, utilizing windows).”

“This option focuses on the capacity of the bus and saying that, strongly recommending mask at a minimal, which will allow us to serve more students on the bus,” Savage said. “While the health safety risk is greater by inviting more students in the bus, the type of risk that we did not discuss which is very significant for our type of community in particular is the inherent socio economic equality in our district. If we were not to provide a transportation option to students or significantly diminish the level of service it could disproportionally impact students and families that don’t have the means to be able to provide their own transportation. That is a different kind of risk that isn’t the health and safety risk, but that risk is something our subcommittee really acknowledged.”

The buses transport 55,000 students each day, which is more than half of the students in the district.

He said the pros of extremely limited social distancing is it provides full service to those families who rely on this service and provides excellent continuity when schools are able to engage normal, routine operation. Savage said the con is it acknowledges the inability to function with social distance and the costs associated with extensive protective measures.

Savage said they will assign students to a particular seat to try to enhance health and safety measures by sitting siblings together or those at the same bus stop.

The full service with limited social distancing transportation vote resulted in 14 committee members in favor and four opposed.

The Health and Safety subcommittee met Tuesday night to discuss a plethora of topics.

The overarching agreements by the subcommittee included that masks are encouraged, but not required and will be available for students/staff on the bus and at school. There will also be staggered arrival and dismissal of students and temperatures will be taken upon arrival. There will also be hand sanitizer available for students in key places within the school and students will be encouraged to bring their own water bottles. There will also be isolation rooms for individuals with COVID-like symptoms. The schools will have one-way hallways with signage and there will be no locker use except in music classes and athletics with appropriate social distancing and cleaning.

Spiro said they encourage masks in large traffic areas in hallways, arriving at school, dismissal and buses in area where they can be exposed.

As far as temperature checks, he said all buses will not all unload at one time, as well as parents dropping off students and walkers and bikers.

In addition, the subcommittee also advises to limit visitors on campus to contracted service and essential meetings. Spiro said they are going to try to utilize technology for meetings.

Breakfast will be grab-and-go to be eaten in the classroom.

As far as inside the classroom, excess furniture will be removed to ensure social distance will be met to the best of each school’s ability and there will be assigned seats.

The subcommittee also recommends limited large gatherings in hallways and common areas and strongly encourages masks during transition. Lunch will have staggered shifts and utilize both indoor and outdoor seating for social distancing.

Before and after school programs will be allowed with similar safety and health procedures and there will be an increased frequency of cleaning procedures during the school day.

Adkins said because of all these extra precautions they have to do deep cleaning and train staff and stagger the drop offs. He added this is something from the leadership top down they have to send an expectation for employees that this is top priority.

“This will take some time away from the classroom time we are going to have. Dealing with this is our highest priority. We have to take extra time for training and deep cleaning and that will take time from somewhere else,” Adkins said.

He said nobody knows what August will look like.

“As we get to approaching August, none of us can predict what those August numbers are going to be, but really working on this hybrid model will put us in the best position of doing what is best for our community,” Adkins said.

The task force voted 12 in favor of the health and safety recommendations and seven opposed.

Chief Human Resource Officer Dr. Angela Pruitt said the workforce subcommittee met on Monday, which highlighted making sure they are attending to all the workers and meeting all of their needs. She said there was a lot of conversation around what they believe would be the key to their success.

“It would be directly related to the confidence the workforce has in the protocols and in the cleaning and recommendations, training for the people that are going to be doing that work and who is going to have that responsibility,” Pruitt said.

There was also conversation about not overloading information.

Pruitt said they could come up with the best plan in the world, but circumstances could change, so they have to be flexible.

“We are all going to be a little uncomfortable for a while,” she said.

Pruitt said their small, but mighty, subcommittee will have more specific recommendations once they have the specific recommendations to follow up on.

The workforce subcommittee did not make any specific recommendations due to not knowing what the model would be for instruction.

Pruitt said they will have specific recommendations for the team at the next meeting.

The communications committee met on Monday evening with a goal of regularly communicating with stakeholders and ensuring the information that staff, students and families receive is coming directly from reliable resources such as the CDC and FDOH.

There will be a brand reopening schools toolkit based on the reopening plan with simplicity through one-sheets and videos.

There also will be a communications plan in place for parents and staff to report COVID-19 cases should quarantine and/or classrooms, schools and office closures be necessary. The subcommittee thought it was important to share COVID-19 prevention through simple messages at school and at home.

To get the communications out, the subcommittee recommended situational report, emails to employees, principals, staff meetings and internet; maximize platform economy and promote platforms to stakeholders, so they know what is available and how to subscribe and follow and use school messenger. The subcommittee also recommends the use of media partners and have community partnerships and forums.

Following the presentations the task force voted on the recommendations.

The task force voted 18 in favor of the communications recommendations with no one opposed.

The district team will take the recommendations, as well as comments and suggestions and create a drafted reopening plan, which will be presented to the school board during the week of July 6.

The next task force meeting will be scheduled tentatively in two weeks.