MIDDLEBURY-SOUTHBURY — The Region 15 Board of Education, meeting Monday, July 20, received an update on school reopening from Superintendent Joshua Smith.
“This is a work in progress,” he said, beginning the presentation by describing the fluid environment and his goal to give everyone an idea of where the region stands.
He promised that the draft plan and his presentation will be available on the school district website at www.region15.org with an email address available to submit questions at SchoolReopening@region15.org.
“We will not open schools if they are not safe,” Mr. Smith pointed out.
While the intent is to get children into the schools because in-school learning is more effective than distance learning, Region 15 schools will move to a scaled-back version or a completely remote model should health risks increase in the community.
Principals will be addressing school-specific issues and the criteria and decision matrix for this decision will include health experts and state officials.
The Region 15 Reopening Schools Committee includes 74 members, of which 50 percent are residents and 90 percent are parents. The committee plans consultation with medical advisors and legal advisors, collaboration with school leaders across the state, discussion with transportation contractors and survey feedback.
The three levels of re-opening planning are in-person, a hybrid of in-person and remote learning and remote learning.
In-person learning will have all students in school wearing masks with handwashing and unmasking breaks, possible restrictions on activities like physical education or chorus, increased cleaning protocols, an online component so that students working from home can participate.
The hybrid model poses the most questions and would reduce capacity in the schools by 50 percent with students attending two days in-person and three remotely.
This model will likely be driven by the community spread rate of the coronavirus and cohorts would be defined geographically to help families collaborate childcare and streamline bus routes.
In the remote learning model, synchronous learning would be the main teaching method, but the region would provide for asynchronous learning to accommodate families where students cannot log on until the evening.
Mr. Smith touched on situations such as if a student were ill or had ill parents as he noted that there might be multiple reasons why a student would be learning remotely.
Homeschooling is an option and families can design and deliver lessons and activities. Mr. Smith said the option might be viable because frequent changes in school participation can be disruptive to the educational process of a student.
The school schedule would be adjusted to allow students to stay in cohorts, make it possible for teachers to see a fixed number of students rather than everyone in the school every day and facilitate contact tracing by professionals.
School arrivals will shift to make sure students can be moved into classrooms and avoid congregating.
In any of the three learning environments, students would have their own access to technology.
Grading would be similar to pre-Covid practices and consistent by grade level and department given the fact that the upcoming school year allows for more planning than the latter part of the 2019-20 school year.
The presentation listed the digital tools that the district has licensed in preparation for the coming school year and described the approach to mitigating the virus and supplies needed for this effort.
The mitigation effort includes behavioral measures such as social distancing, frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer and face masks and adherence to travel restrictions.
Structural measures include reducing the number of visitors in the schools, cleaning of surfaces, reduction or elimination of shared materials, maximizing distance between students with seating arrangements, minimizing or eliminating the use of lockers and possible decommissioning of water fountains where it is not feasible to replace them with water bottle filling stations.
Mr. Smith said that many decisions and activities such as contact tracing will be outside the scope of the district’s responsibility.
He touched on funding and a commitment to stay within the current budget by repurposing or reprioritizing budget items.
The district received $118,000 from the CARES Act and intends to use those funds to license instructional software and student devices.
Mr. Smith reported that he expects the PPE purchases to be reimbursed at 75 percent, qualifying this expectation by noting that he has not heard from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Following the presentation, board members asked questions regarding availability of PPE, contact tracing, the procedure for reporting should a teacher or student become ill and how substitute teachers would be trained on new protocols intended to keep everyone safe.
Members of the public called in to say they appreciate the approach because it recognizes that not all families are in the same place and ask questions regarding the possibility of training for parents to help them support their children as they learn.
Chair Marion Manzo said the board appreciated the input and reminded those present that specific questions could be addressed by emailing SchoolReopening@region15.org.