Student re-entry plan tabled until after town hall meeting, First day of school set for Aug. 26
Before making a decision on a student re-entry plan for next school year, the Woodford County Board of Education voted Monday to host a town hall meeting next Tuesday to get additional input from parents and teachers on its options. The motion to table a decision on a re-entry plan until after the town hall passed by a 3 to 2 vote, with board members Ambrose Wilson IV and Sherri Springate voting no. The virtual town hall meeting July 14 will begin at 6 p.m. and end at 8, and give parents an opportunity to learn about plans for their children’s return to school next month after being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. The decision to have a town hall came after board Vice Chair Dani Bradley said she had received a lot of feedback from parents who preferred a hybrid model, where students would receive in-person and online instruction using an alternating schedule. “I just want to make sure we’ve been as diligent as possible on that,” she explained. While that option was viewed as a workable model initially and thoroughly discussed, the logistics of a hybrid model became “extremely problematic,” especially for families with working parents, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. He recommended the board approve a dual model that gives parents the option of either sending their children to school for in-person instruction or putting them in the district’s virtual academy online learning program with an assigned teacher. He said survey results showing 56 percent of responding families wanted their kids to come back to school – even if masks were required; and 75 percent wanting as much in-person instruction as possible, “drove how we developed this particular model.” He noted masks would be required if six feet of social distance is not maintained under guidelines for in-person instruction. Students will wear masks when they are moving in a building and being transported on a bus, with the only exception being preschool and kindergarten students, Hawkins said. He said students will also receive “mask breaks” throughout the school day, and he’s confident teachers will find creative ways to do so with their classes. Hawkins presented an overview of the dual model options and explained why the district did not see a hybrid model as a viable option after several emails submitted by parents were read during the meeting. The parents supported a hybrid option that would allow their children to receive in-person and virtual instruction on an alternating schedule. “A hybrid option allows the children to go to school, to see teachers, to see friends. And with fewer students in the classroom, students could be seated six feet apart – therefore reducing the amount of time a student would be required to wear a mask during the day,” read Ken and Amy Marshall’s email. Hawkins said class scheduling on alternate days would cause a problem, particularly at the high school, because students don’t stay together throughout a day. Another issue involved having someone at home to assist a student with virtual learning when that child’s teacher will be doing in-person instruction with other students, he said. A challenge facing teachers and other district staff with school-age children would be finding childcare for their kids on the days they are not receiving in-person instruction, Hawkins said. He said providing meals to students both in school and at home would also be problematic. Jamie Bland, a Huntertown parent, said he supported a dual model in part because some children do well with virtual instruction while others respond to in-person instruction. “All parents are concerned with what the return to school will look like,” he said. “… Each family’s criteria for what they will choose is unique for them, and only they know what is best for their household.” Board member Allison Richardson questioned Hawkins about how many teachers and parents were surveyed and what they were asked. She supported surveying them again to get a better response on “how they want re-entry to look,” before Tuesday’s town hall, which will also allow parents to give input before a decision is made by the board on re-entry. In response to Richardson’s survey concerns, Hawkins said teachers and other certified employees were surveyed and 79.4 percent of the 214 responses stated they plan to return to work in the schools. While Springate agreed that it’s a huge decision to choose a re-entry plan for students, she said, “… Kicking the can down the road – especially when we had a meeting specifically for (making) this (decision) – really isn’t fair.” She said it’s important for both parents and district employees to know the district’s re-entry plan as soon as possible. During the nearly three-and-a-half-hour meeting Monday, Bradley read several questions about student re-entry to school that were posted online. The meeting also included discussions about health and safety measures for students, including daily temperature checks and medical conditions that may exempt a student from wearing a mask. Richardson pointed out that a hybrid option has been posted on Anderson County Public Schools’ website. It’s one of three options – in-person and virtual instruction are the others – for its reopening plan, Bradley explained. Chief Academic Officer Ryan Asher agreed that the Anderson County re-entry plan has three options, but he said its hybrid option would not include the district’s entire student body based on what he reviewed on its website. First day of school The board unanimously approved an instructional calendar for the 2020-21 school year that schedules the first day of school for students on Wednesday, Aug. 26. Students were originally scheduled to return Thursday, Aug. 13. The last day of school is May 25 (unless makeup days are necessary), with a fall break (Oct. 5 to 9), winter break (Dec. 19 to Jan. 3) and spring break (March 29 to April 2) also on the approved 2020-21 calendar. More bus monitors The board unanimously approved the creation of up to 20 additional bus monitor positions to meet transportation needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The additional monitors will take the temperatures of children prior to boarding school buses, according to Hawkins. He said the district has received $483,000 through the federal CARES Act to pay costs associated with the pandemic.