Schools working on mix of online, in-school plan for fall
Last updated 7/22/2020 at 7:56am
The upcoming school year will be a hybrid mix of online and in-school learning for most students, if plans in development at Grand Coulee Dam School District come to fruition amidst current uncertainties about timing and COVID-19.
That was the topic of discussion at a Zoom school board meeting Monday night, which was well attended by staff, parents, and more.
The superintendent and board of directors met in the library at Lake Roosevelt Junior/Senior High, passing a health screening before entering the building, wearing masks, keeping a distance from one another, and using Zoom to broadcast their meeting and interact with the public — experiencing some of the same routines and using tools similar to those teachers and students will have to use this year.
Superintendent Paul Turner spoke on key points addressed in a document titled the Washington Schools 2020 Reopening Plan Template from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, showing it on screen the way teachers will have to share with their students. OSPI just published the document July 16.
The planning is taking place as though Lake Roosevelt Schools will be able to open this fall “if we can come back at all into the building,” Turner said, “and right now it’s looking like that’s not even going to happen” if the state’s COVID-19 case rate continues to rise.
Turner explained that the GCDSD needs to file a plan with the OSPI for the upcoming school year by Aug. 19, two weeks before the scheduled start of school, and to work with Okanogan Public Health in the process.
The health of students and staff is top priority, Turner said, saying that high-risk individuals will need to be identified (which will be kept confidential). He said everyone will have to adhere to “the Big Four” rules: daily health screenings, wearing face coverings, keeping a 6-foot distance from one another, and practicing good hygiene.
Turner explained that students would stay with their “pod,” a term used to describe classrooms or cohorts of about 15 students. Those students would eat lunch, possibly in their classrooms, and take recess at separate times from the other pods. If someone within that pod were to contract COVID-19, the hope is that the whole school wouldn’t need to then shut down, but that pod could be sent home, tested and isolated.
Using the chat function on Zoom, those listening typed their comments and questions without disrupting the conversation, and board members, representatives of the public, frequently brought those comments and questions into the discussion.
A couple of comments mentioned that teachers who are also parents, or students with siblings, were they to be infected with COVID-19, could expose their siblings, and thus other pods.
Transportation is another topic heavily affected by social restrictions.
Students who live in east Coulee Dam, where the school is located, would be encouraged to walk to school. Parents who could drive their kids to school will be encouraged to do so. And those who ride the bus would sit far away from each other early on the bus, except for those from the same household, and the seats would fill in as the bus got closer to school, thus minimizing the time in which social distances were shorter.
Just like before entering the school, health screenings prior to getting on the bus are also highly likely, and an extra staff member riding the bus will help with the process.
With class sizes restricted to about 15 students, in theory there would be fewer children on a bus route.
The small class size also necessitates that not all students are at school at a given time.
Turner said that they want kindergarten through third-grade students to be able to attend the physical school all of the time.
The older students, however, would likely be doing a combination of distance learning and in-person school.
Turner emphasized the need to speak soon with the parents of every student and see which of four options they would like to take:
One category would be students who would not attend school for one reason or another, and would do a kind of assisted homeschool, possibly with a model similar to GCDSD’s Alternative Learning Environment;
or students who would do online-only work, but attend the classes online;
or students taking a combination of at-home online classwork and in-person classes at school;
or students who need to be at the school full time for one reason or another.
Flexibility with students and their families, and accommodating their needs was emphasized as important, and the need to have clearer details on the options for the parents was emphasized in chat comments.
“I think parents and staff need a clear outlined plan to be able to make an informed decision about what to do for their family,” Dean of Students Sara Kennedy said in the chat.
The question as to whether students who were staying home could still have meals delivered, as was the case in the spring, Turner said the state hasn’t given direction on that topic yet, but he expects them to.
Students alternating between distance and in-person learning, might attend in person one week, then online the next, or rotate that attendance schedule two days at a time, or something along those lines.
Teachers will be working in their classrooms every day, and teaching their class online as well as in person, so students can watch and participate from home, or the classroom.
Attendance and grading would be performed as normal, requiring students to log online at a certain time to be considered present.
“We need everybody to have a computer in front of them,” Turner said, saying the school district would very soon be buying an additional 275 Chromebooks for about $75,000 covered by federal COVID relief dollars.
Students who don’t have internet access could possibly have assignments stored on a flash drive, or do “paper and pencil” work, Turner said.
Training the students, as well as staff, on the technology was also emphasized as important to the success of the school year.
If the in-person model of school were to be disrupted for one reason or another, instruction could continue without missing a beat because the students would be computer savvy, Turner reasoned.
In the chat feature, multiple comments asked for formal training for teachers, and to delay the start of the school year to give them more time to prepare.
School Board Chairman George LaPlace expressed concern over how much ground needs to be covered in the next three weeks when a resolution needs to be passed approving the school’s plan.
“We’re running out of time and things are going to change,” LaPlace said. “We may have to push our timeframe back for when school starts.”
Turner acknowledged the possibility, but said the goal is to not have to do that.
Regarding teachers using technology, LaPlace said that “some did a really good job, some did an OK job. We need to step it up if we’re going to do this.”
More meetings as well as question-and-answer sessions with the community were suggested in the meantime.
“We know this will have a big impact on the community,” School Board Director Rich Black said. “A Q&A would be a wise thing to do.”
Turner said he would try to organize a Q&A for next week sometime.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for next Monday, July 27, at 5:30 p.m. and will be available to attend on Zoom at https://gcdsd.zoom.us/j/677070515.