The Douglas County School District is continuing preparations to send elementary school students back to full in-person learning this month after the school board received an update from district staff on the progress of plans.
The school board held a study session on the matter — discussions in which no formal action is required — during its Oct. 6 board meeting. Staff provided a look at how a student's day might differ once back to 100% in-person learning, staffing needs and where the community's COVID-19 data currently sit.
The district has a goal of returning elementary students to in-person learning by Oct. 19.
As predicted, worsening COVID-19 statistics followed the Labor Day holiday, staff said, something numerous parents expressed concern about during public comment.
Some parents worried about health concerns, while others felt children would be confused and further disrupted if the district has to reverse course and switch back to a hybrid or online learning model.
Parents pointed to the district dashboard, which scores the district's readiness to switch models on a number of metrics and places the district in an “eLearning,” “hybrid” or “in-person” category based on the score.
The district's score as of Oct. 5 was 10, placing it in the hybrid-learning model category.
Staff, including Chief Assessment and Data Officer Matt Reynolds, stressed the dashboard is not the sole factor in choosing a learning model. Board President David Ray said, “we consider far more data than what's in this particular graphic.”
Areas that are “putting us in the red” included hospitalizations, case rates and case rates among children ages 5 to 18, Reynolds said. A graph included in staff's presentation showed a steady increase in case incidence rates from late September leading into October.
“You can see this idea of a wave. The wave seems to be around federal holidays,” Reynolds said.
But Reynolds also walked directors through survey results showing on a scale of 1 to 4, 37% of staff rated their readiness to return at a 3 and 33.9% at a 4.
Interim Superintendent Corey Wise said the district contacted former families — such as those who may have left for other options like homeschooling — and estimates between 50 and 55 students plan to return if the district transitions back to full in-person learning.
Students will also be given the option to transfer to either full in-person or full online learning as space allows.
Wise added that once all students are back, there will be more children in classrooms and on busses. Elementary children do not need to space 6 feet apart but other precautions like mask wearing will continue.
Class sizes will be back in a normal range, between 24 and 28 children, Assistant Superintendent Ted Knight said. The district is looking at hiring additional staff for class sizes that may exceed that, he said.
“The classroom setting is going to look very similar to what it looked like prior to March,” he said.
During in-person learning, each classroom would become its own cohort, which staff hope will keep quarantines limited to a single class instead of an entire grade or school in the event of a positive case.
Ray said he was hurting for children who missed being in school, which is necessary to help them build a strong foundation, he said, and that he was encouraged by building leaders feeling ready to return.
“There are concerns with safety, there are concerns with learning. This is a very difficult year,” Wise said. “There is not a perfect time, no matter when we come back full in-person.”
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