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Summit school board members worry about access, equity ahead of final restart decision

School board member Tracey Carisch shares her thoughts at a virtual meeting Thursday, July 23.
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FRISCO — The Summit School District Board of Education is not taking the decision to reopen schools lightly. 

In a meeting Thursday, July 24, that spanned 4 1/2 hours, the school board discussed the potential reopening in great detail. While the board doesn’t have control over every aspect of reopening, district staff and Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. will take the board’s opinions into account when the restart plan is finalized.

On July 30, the board will be voting on changes to the district’s budget, calendar and a possible updated resolution that would ease restrictions on student attendance and teacher time. On July 31, the district will release its final “return to learn” plan, which will include an official start date and information on how it will look. 

Right now, the district is looking at three models for reopening: online learning, in-person learning and a blend of the two. The three models fall in line with the three stabilization stages in the county’s “roadmap to recovery.” If school were to start right now, the district would be in the online-learning model.

Although the board members don’t have a say on every detail of the final plan, they shared their concerns, most of which centered on equity. 

While every student in the district has access to Chromebooks, some do not have access to the internet required to do their homework. As of now, the district plans to continue placing school buses outfitted with Wi-Fi hotspots in areas with residents that lack access. 

“I think we need to look at different things like Wi-Fi hotspot distribution (and) partnering with our towns,” school district Chief Operations Officer Drew Adkins said. “This will be absolutely very important as we wander into these unchartered territories.”

Board President Kate Hudnut said she’s worried about the county’s Hispanic population, which accounts for 56% of coronavirus cases. Because of living environments and the demand of essential jobs, those kids may decide to do fully remote learning, which would be all online for the entire year. 

“What on earth is remote learning with an app … going to look like for that population?” she said. “I see the gap between our kids that are going to start getting tutors and this population is going to get really rough. I’m nervous. I’m very nervous about how that tool is going to work.”

Board Director Isabel Rodriguez said she’s concerned about students who work in essential jobs. She said she’s worried the district isn’t being creative enough in finding solutions for those students, who rely on the income to support their families.

“To be able to stay in this community, to be able to pay the rent and buy the groceries, everybody has to be able to work,” Rodriguez said. “So these teens, these youth, these kids who are working, I just hope that we value their contributions to their families, we recognize they deserve and they have the right to an education, and that we are creative enough to think of a way to make that accessible for them.”

Rodriguez also pointed out the value of the connections that kids make in schools. 

“Some of these personal connections and relationships they have with me, with their teachers, with those people within the school might be their only most valuable connection,” she said. 

The district has also put an emphasis on mental health support during the school year. Special education coordinator Ellen Clark said the school’s mental health staff will meet with students face to face whenever it is safe to do so. The district is also working to update its suicide prevention program so staff members are more aware of the signs. 

While the district is putting in efforts to create access to mental health care, many students won’t have the socialization they’ve been used to for years, an issue that worries some parents. 

“I just want to make sure that we are really, really taking into consideration how desperately our teachers need socialization,” Heather Gard said in the public comment section of the meeting. “I appreciate the mental health information that has gone in. One of the things that’s lacking … is tools in the hands of kids.”

Gard said it’s necessary to give students the tools to help their peers as many teenagers don’t always go to teachers and parents for help. 

While the district has an overarching plan for what the school year will look like, many of the details need to be ironed out. Smith, who has been working at the district for only 17 days, said he hopes the district and community will “exercise patience and grace” as the final decisions are being made. 

“Despite all the challenges and the ideas that have been presented, I’m continuously grateful for the team,” he said. “At the end of the day, I know that we’re going to be able to create an environment for the next school year that is going to make education for all of our learners that’s equitable, that’s experiential, that’s engaging and authentic.”


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