Anxious parents wanting to know what the coming school year holds for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic joined a Zoom meeting with Davis County Superintendent Dan Maeder Wednesday evening, July 22.
Maeder first assured the 200 parents who joined the online town hall meeting that “there is no other community I’d rather be in during a crisis. Davis County handles this better than anywhere I’ve ever been.”
Maeder then explained the educational options approved by the school board at its July 20 meeting.
Those two options (also described in detail in last week’s Bloomfield Democrat) were:
• traditional onsite learning with provisions to transition to hybrid learning — a combination of onsite and online/virtual learning — if necessary;
• online/virtual continuous learning at home.
Maeder said with the traditional option students would attend school onsite but with COVID risk mitigation efforts in place. “The number one goal would be to have as many kids in school as possible but also keep them safe,” he said.
If school capacity restrictions must be reduced to enforce stringent social-distancing measures, hybrid learning would be implemented. Half the students (the A group) would attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays while the other half (the B group) would learn through online access. A and B groups would then be reversed on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays would be used for deep cleaning.
Those parents who prefer the online option for their children must make that choice by Aug. 10, Maeder said, and they must continue with that option until at least the end of the first semester. The online curriculum is not sequenced in the same way as the curriculum used in classrooms, and gaps in learning could occur if children are allowed to switch, he explained.
Following Maeder’s presentation explaining the options, parents submitted many questions through Zoom’s chat room feature.
Some of those questions and Maeder’s answers follow:
Would you consider masks for middle school and high school students and can teachers require masks in their classes?
Maeder: We highly recommend face coverings. The district is not ready to require them for students, but we may require staff to do wear them. Through education, we hope folks understand the value and benefit of face coverings. If there is an uptick in cases, we may have to ratchet it up.
The staff is interested in whether they can require masks.
Small group work in the classroom is good, but we cannot do this and promote social distancing. If students want to work together, they may have to throw a mask on.
Face coverings will be required on buses because there is not sufficient space to social-distance on buses. We must keep our drivers healthy, or we can’t have school.
Since all students will be given iPads or Chromebooks for online learning, will parents be responsible for any damage that occurs?
Maeder: If there is gross negligence, families may be responsible for damage. Otherwise, insurance should cover accidental damages. This is a risk we have to take, since students must take their devices home every night in case we have to quickly change to online learning.
Could there be occasions where just one classroom or one building would have to switch to online learning?
Maeder: We may have to ask a classroom, or one building to stay home. We’ll have to play some scenarios by ear and use good judgment.
Will students be allowed to use lockers or will they have to carry all their belongings from room to room?
Brad McCloskey (Middle School principal): We’ll wait and see what our registration numbers tell us and then assign lockers. No one will pair up this year. Parents may request that students not use lockers.
What is the difference between the online option and the home-school program?
Maeder: Everyone has the opportunity to enroll in the home-school program if they wish. Home-schoolers do not have the same type of access to online learning that we have. Our students will have a full suite of learnings. If families want home-school options, they should contact Laurie Bartle or Jill Watson at the Central Office.
How will you handle any bullying regarding wearing or not wearing masks?
Maeder: We will require and expect all students to be gracious and accepting of mask status. We will not tolerate bullying or hazing for one second. We need to work together on this.
Considering the shortage, would homemade hand sanitizer be acceptable:
Maeder: We have a lot of sanitizer on hand and also back ordered. If the sanitizer is FDA approved, it is OK to use.
Can daycare providers still pick up multiple families after school?
Maeder: We’ll do what we can to control (intermingling of families) on school property. We can only recommend off school property. We are doing what we can to mitigate risk. There will be no changes in policy when it comes to picking up or dropping off kids.
Will students with learning disabilities — students with IEPs — have the same access to teachers as in the past?
Maeder: They will have full access to the IEP and team, only through electronic means.
If a family chooses the online option, will the children be prohibited from participating in extra-curricular activities?
Maeder: Not at this point. There should be no problem.
Will siblings be placed in the same A/B groups during hybrid learning?
Maeder: Yes. We will divide the district geographically. We know older siblings may have to watch younger siblings and also help them with their work. We’re thinking an east/west division right now and working to figure out bus routes on that basis. When the east group is in school, the west group drivers would deliver meals and vice versa.
What is the plan for a class when a student or the teacher comes down with COVID?
Maeder: We will do contact tracing and try and determine who may have been within six feet of that person for 15 minutes. We will contact the parents and ask them to keep kids within that radius quarantined and have public health assist.
What will recess look like for elementary students?
Maeder: We’re thinking one grade level at a time and let them spread out over the whole area. Details still need to be worked out.
What about fall sports?
Maeder: I hope we can have them. The state organizations — IHSAA (Iowa High School Athletic Association) and IGHSAU (Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union) — will determine that. The Iowa High School Music Association (IHSMA) and the Iowa High School Speech Association will set up guidelines in the fine arts.
We’ll have to follow the same transportation guidelines if we can’t achieve social distancing on buses. If they ride a bus, students must wear a mask.
Will dual credit be offered for some senior classes?
Maeder: Yes. Academics will be the same as in the past. We also plan to start online programs for personal finance and health. We will do more to teach kids how to be successful in an online environment.
Will families traveling out of state right before school begins have a problem with their children starting the school year?
Maeder: There are no restrictions now. It would be helpful if they could be home for a few days before school starts.
If a child is exposed or in quarantine, will they do online classes as in the hybrid plan?
Maeder: We’ll do our darnedest to get them Zoomed in to classes and provide help virtually.
What about class sizes?
Maeder: Class sizes will be normal and we will social distance as much as we can. If we follow social-distancing guidelines, we can only be at 50-60% capacity. We’re not going to cram kids into classrooms, but we cannot guarantee six-foot social distancing.
Will you be upgrading ventilation or filtration systems?
Maeder: The systems are about as good as you can find in schools. I know we’re required to exchange bad air with fresh air and we can do that.
Will there be additional lunch calls?
Maeder: We may look at this. We will keep the students as dispersed as possible. On nice days, we may send some outside to eat. On bad days, we may not have PE and use the gym for lunch. We may have to have some kids eat in classrooms. We don’t have a clear answer to this yet.
Will you disclose student names if they test positive?
Maeder: We will adhere to the guidelines that exist for that. We won’t broadcast when someone has COVID.
How will the online option and hybrid learning work when both parents are working 12-15 hours a day?
Maeder: We surveyed 70% of our parents and 50% (of that group) said there would be no problem; 25-30% said it would be tough, but they could make it work. The rest said “no way.” If we have to go to hybrid learning, we know there will be a few families that we’ll have to prioritize and get those kids here every day. We want everyone to do the best they can to find a place for their kids, but if they can’t, let us know and we’ll do the best we can to help.
Will kids be able to have personal water bottles at school?
Maeder: Yes, kids should bring their own and not share.
Can siblings sit together on the bus?
Can families choose different options for siblings?
Maeder; Yes, one could be online while others opt for traditional learning.
Would you clarify the difference between the home-school program and the online only option?
Maeder: In the home-school program, families design their own educational program. They don’t have the same graduation requirements and they don’t participate in high school graduation. They don’t have to take all the high school required courses. They can create their own path of study.
If students do the home school program, then come back to school, they miss out on some things required for graduation.
Online students will be enrolled in credit-generating coursework. They will have the same learning and credit requirements and will meet DCHS requirements.
Those students studying under the online option will have a learning coach who connects with them by Zoom or email. We’ve asked our program to provide some sample coursework for us to provide on our website. In many cases, there will be a teacher “on the other end.” Our teachers will serve as mentors and coaches, but not instructors.
What happens with the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten schedules during hybrid learning?
Maeder: We’ll do our best to keep them in-person full-time, but if we can’t we’ll have to go to hybrid learning.
Can students work at their own pace or even work ahead with the online classes?
Maeder: They can probably work ahead. The online mentor will monitor the pacing. There is a starting point and end point in those programs. There will be a tool for kids to monitor their own pace and know where they are.
Maeder encouraged parents at the end of the Zoom session to let the school know if they had further questions.
“We’ll do the best we can to answer questions,” he said. “There are no silly questions. Call us or send us an email.”
Davis County classes start August 26.