The Platte County R-3 Board of Education delved into key elements of three primary options for returning to learning this fall during a live-streamed videoconference July 16.
District officials say they will share detailed reopening plans with families and staff on Wednesday, July 22.
Sixteen weeks have passed since school closures forced students from traditional in-person learning to online learning.
Dr. Jay Harris, executive director of operations for PCR-3, said the district considered multiple learning platforms, including in-person learning, online instruction and alternative scheduling. Never before have school districts been faced with the dilemma of offering both in-person and remote learning options.
PCR-3’s academic plans in particular were driven by feedback from medical institutions, surrounding school districts, educators and parents.
“Our reopening plan was created through the lens of our vision, mission, values and principles of learning. We developed the plan knowing that some students will choose to be in-person (if the health officials say it’s safe to do so) other students will be engaged in remote learning,” said Harris.
In June, 90.74 percent of PCR-3 parents surveyed indicated they were either “very likely” or “likely” to send their child to school in the fall if health officials say it is safe to do so. Survey data also indicated that increasing disinfecting routines in classrooms and increasing health hygiene routines by students and staff are leading procedure enhancements that could be influencing parents’ confidence in returning children to the classroom.
In response to this feedback, district officials are fine-tuning an in-person learning option that “places an emphasis on a safe and caring environment.”
They are also hard at work designing a “robust” remote learning option that ensures all students who choose the virtual learning option have access to devices and internet access. Students who opt out of in-person learning will be required to commit to remote learning for an entire semester.
Harris said families will be given about a two-week grace period to reverse their decision.
“We are asking for a commitment for a semester, which will allow us to really establish courses, establish a curriculum and establish staffing needs to make sure we have strong programs,” said Harris.
It will also allow the district to have dedicated online teachers.
PCR-3 will utilize the same elementary and secondary framework for remote learning. In response to input from remote learning during the shut down last spring, the district will use videoconferencing to conduct face-to-face Q & A sessions and learning opportunities.
Harris says remote learning in the fall will be a “very different experience” from last spring.
Because 33 percent of parents indicated they would be most comfortable with an alternating schedule of in-person and remote learning, the district also explored implementing an alternative instruction schedule. Many wonder what that would look like. Harris said on any given day, roughly half of the student population would be in class and half would learn remotely. Wednesdays could be dedicated to extra cleaning.
Families would not be able to select this option. District officials say this scenario will be “initiated based on guidance from local health authorities and considering other factors.”
The district’s plan remains subject to change as the COVID-19 situation across the country remains very fluid. If faced with quarantine measures, the district will transition to full remote learning.
“We will have plans in place so we can make an efficient and effective plan to switch between the plans if needed,” said Harris.
Given the rise of positive cases of COVID-19 since parents were surveyed, the district is asking parents to share their opinions on the proposed options before July 31.
“This plan is built on flexibility,” said Harris. “That is an important part of it and an essential part of it, because we will be constantly monitoring the safety and health, questions and concerns (of our families) to be able to pivot if we need to,” added Harris.
Students in the PCR-3 school district are scheduled to return to learning on Aug. 25.
Health and Wellness Protocol
Not surprisingly, the district is asking parents to perform a daily health and wellness check at home. Parents are urged to keep their child home from school if they are symptomatic, says Harris.
How will the school district handle teachers or students that show up to school with symptoms of COVID-19? The answer is the teacher or student will be referred to the districts’ healthcare professionals who will follow safety precautions recommended by local health experts.
Of course, the district will have designated areas to isolate symptomatic students or teachers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
District officials are also examining each buildings ventilation and water systems. Even if the district must make improvements in phases, it will consider the recommendations of engineers and consultants to improve ventilation and indoor air quality.
Additionally, the district is going to support the social and emotional health of students and staff.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32.3% of respondents in a Household Pulse Survey reported feeling anxious or nervous more than half of last week.
“This is a difficult time,” said Harris. “It has some unique challenges that we have not faced before, so if we come back to in-person learning what can that look like and how can we support everybody so that they feel comfortable and understand that we are going to do everything to keep them safe?”
The district will also offer personal protective equipment to students and staff.
Given the challenges of physical distancing on school buses, children will be required to wear face coverings and will be loaded from the back to the front on their trip to school.
“If parents can drive their students to school that helps,” said Harris. “We know physical distancing is difficult on a school bus, but we do have strategies that we put in place in our plan and received a blessing from our local health authorities regarding our approach.”
Students will be assigned to a seat with siblings sitting together, said Harris. District leaders are also evaluating staggering arrival and dismissal times to prevent a bottleneck scenario at the buildings’ entry points.