Summit school board rejects remote learning option for 2022-23 school year

The Summit School District Administration Building in Frisco is pictured on Nov. 12, 2020. The Summit school board voted against continuing a remote learning option for students in the 2022-23 school year.
Liz Copan/For the Summit Daily News

The Summit School District will not offer remote learning next school year.

The Summit school board voted 4-2 against the program, which would have been an online alternative for students who don’t want to attend school in person because of health, social or family concerns. Johanna Kugler and Lisa Webster were the only board members to vote in favor of the program. Chris Alleman did not attend the meeting.

Prior to the vote, the board heard an hour of public comment in which many students, parents and staff members spoke on the issue. The people who chose to speak were largely divided. Some staff members expressed concerns about the costs of the program while families said it made it possible for their students to attend public school.

“When we went to online learning with the pandemic, my child’s anxiety levels decreased,” parent and teacher Kerry Bergstrom said during public comment. “He was home. He was safe. He was learning.”

The remote learning program began as a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic and was funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars. That money has since dried up, so the program required board approval to continue. Ultimately, the board members felt there needed to be more thought put into the program before dedicating its own funds to it.

“(We’re) building the plane as we’re flying it,” board member Consuelo Redhorse said about the program.

This year, 68 students participated in the program, 20 of whom were in elementary school and 48 of whom were in middle or high school.

While students in elementary school participated in live lectures with district teachers via telecommunications platforms, middle and high school students used the Edgenuity program, an online application that facilitates curriculum and digital-based instruction. Those students had added support from a district teacher.

Edgenuity has been controversial for families in the district. Some feel like it fails to meet the same curriculum standards as in-person instruction.

The district would have spent $363,002 to run the program, which would have covered the cost of two full-time staff members, supplies and program services like Edgenuity. The district needed 36 students to enroll in order for the program to break even, Chief Financial Officer Kara Drake said.

That number isn’t guaranteed, and board members worried about the possibility of losing money on the program.

“I’m very uncomfortable with adding yet another program that’s only serving a small population, when we have some really big issues for the other 98% or 99% of our kids,” board President Kate Hudnut said.

The board members and staff members who spoke during public comment would like to see the funds redirected to in-person school services. Right now, the district is struggling with a staffing shortage. There are 74 open positions as of Tuesday night, according to the district’s careers page.

The situation has left many classrooms without paraprofessionals, who are often essential to supporting students through interventions and one-on-one work.

However, some district officials worry about what will happen to the 68 students who currently use the program. Drake and Dore said they assume those students will look outside of the district for alternatives, which will mean a drop in revenue.

The board members urged district officials to try and find solutions to the social problems, like bullying, that lead students to choose the program in the first place.

“That is a huge, huge mental health issue, and we cannot let that go,” Kugler said.

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