Summit School District shares tentative plans for reopening in series of town halls
KEYSTONE — Summit School District officials are “embracing a new paradigm for public education” as the future of schooling hangs in the balance due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re viewing the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to transform our schools and to transform education as we know it,” Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. said at Monday’s town hall meeting for families in the district.
The district held a total of four virtual town hall meetings Monday and Tuesday to inform families, staff, students and community members about the future of the 2020-21 school year. The meetings served as a way for the district to give a sense of what school is going to look like in the fall and answer questions.
The board of education will vote on the restart date and process at its meeting July 30 and will release information about the finalized process July 31.
The meetings were heavily attended by all stakeholders, with Monday night’s meeting for families hitting its limit of 300 participants. School district spokesperson Mikki Grebetz apologized to families who were unable to join Monday’s meeting because of the limit.
The town halls took place shortly after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released its guidance Monday on reopening schools. In the guidance, the state outlined how schools should reopen based on each phase of the state’s response to the virus: stay at home, safer at home and protect our neighbors.
The final decision on how schools will reopen comes down to Summit County public health officials and the district.
The state’s guidance recommends that students are kept in groups or cohorts to limit unnecessary mingling. The size of the cohorts would vary based on grade level and phase of reopening. It also suggests creating seating charts that ensure a 6-foot distance between students. When 6-foot distances aren’t possible, schools should aim to have 3 feet in between students, according to the guidance.
The guidance also suggests that buses be limited in capacity. Right now, the school district plans to have one person per seat on all of its buses with a maximum of 25 people in a bus to fall in line with Summit County’s transportation rules. This likely will lead to different bus routes and staggered start times at the schools, according to Drew Adkins, chief operations officer for the school district.
Summit School District’s plans
Although an official opening date isn’t decided, the district has created a restart guide, which outlines three learning models that it will use throughout the school year. The models align with the three stages in the county’s roadmap to recovery. The district plans to have a flexible approach to moving among the models as local and state ordinances change over time.
The first model is online-only learning, which applies when the county is in stabilization stages 1 and 2. The county is currently in stabilization stage 2, which limits group gatherings to 175 people. Chief Academic Officer Mary Kay Dore said all schools will be using Google Classroom to do online learning.
The second model involves a blended learning method and applies to stabilization stage 3, which allows gatherings of up to 250 people. The blended learning model will allow students to go between learning remotely and in person.
When the public health order is more restrictive, students who have limited access to online learning tools will be prioritized for in-person learning. As restrictions lessen, all students will have the opportunity to have in-person classes. However, under the blended learning model, students who aren’t comfortable with returning to school are allowed to remain online-only.
District leaders presented data from a parent survey that suggested 12% of families would like to do online learning for the entire school year.
The third model is in-person learning and will apply only beyond stabilization stage 3, when the threat of the virus is low due to a vaccine. In this model, all students will return to school in person.
Even when the school district reaches the third model of learning, it’s likely that school will look a little different. Adkins said there will be a number of changes to how the schools will function.
The school district already has started putting signs in the schools to remind students and staff to wear a mask, social distance, practice good hygiene and get tested if they feel sick. All students will be screened for symptoms before school to prevent the spread of the virus, Adkins said.
At the direction of the state and county public health departments, the district will be putting students into cohorts to limit mingling between groups. Each cohort will have a designated entrance and classroom that they will use throughout the day, Adkins said. The cohorts also will eat lunch and take recess together.
Families and other visitors will not be allowed inside the schools. Instead, they will have to wait in vestibules at the entrance of each school, Adkins said.
At Monday night’s meeting for families, Adkins said there will be challenges throughout the process but that the district is working to make school as safe as possible.
“As we know, we only have control while we have the students,” he said. “There’s a lot of commingling afterward and before school, but we’re going to do our best to play our part and ensure that we can continue to function.”
In Tuesday’s town hall for students, the district asked for feedback on the remote learning process. Smith and Grebetz read the student responses aloud without including names.
When Smith asked what the students liked about the online learning process, many said they enjoyed having more flexible hours and getting to spend time with family. Some students shared that the remote schedule helped their grades.
However, when Smith asked what students didn’t like about remote learning, many said workloads were inconsistent and communication with teachers was difficult.
“It was hard when some teachers would assign a ton of work while some teachers assign barely any,” Smith read on behalf of one of the students. “If we are able to continue online learning, we need to have a similar workload from all teachers.”
The school district will continue to work on the restart process by sending out surveys to parents and getting feedback from students. While none of the plans are set in stone, Smith said the district is continuing to work with public health to open schools in the safest way possible.
“I would like to be very clear that the decision to reopen schools is not mine alone or the district leadership team’s alone,” he said. “The ‘return to learn’ plan continues to be informed by the review of hundreds of resources, special reports and guided documents from national and state organizations that are engaged in COVID-19 strategies for schools.”
Summit School District Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. presented on the 10 guiding principles for reopening at the four virtual town hall meetings Monday and Tuesday. The 10 principles are as follows:
- Develop multiple reopening scenarios and contingencies to ensure health, safety and wellbeing of all students and staff
- Build a COVID-19 response reopening infrastructure aligned with changing scenarios and needs
- Ensure equitable access to technology required for virtual learning
- Provide support to staff and students to address long-term social, physical and psychological needs
- Ensure all schools are informed on trauma
- Prepare for changes related to the virus in human resources management and practices
- Offer ongoing professional learning
- Transform the teaching-learning-assessment process to ensure personalization, engagement and differentiation
- Anticipate budget and fiscal issues related to the virus
- Embrace a new paradigm for public education
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