As announced last week, students and families in the Colchester School District will have to quickly answer a hard question: Will my child attend school partially in-person or participate in fully virtual instruction?
Students and families received the CSD 2020-21 school year registration form today, July 29, and have until Aug. 5 to decide which path to pursue.
Even though Gov. Phil Scott announced yesterday he would sign an executive order delaying the start of school until Sept. 8, so school districts have more time to adapt to the changing educational landscape, families are still need to make their choice within a week.
CSD Superintendent Amy Minor said families should choose the model that will work best for their personal situation.
“There is not one model that I can put forth, as a leader in the Colchester community this is going to be right for the majority of families,” she said. “I am seeing an array of feedback, and we’re trying to do our best to give families some options that are in alignment with the guidance from the Agency of Education.”
With many health and safety concerns as well as educational and logistical factors to consider, the choice may be difficult.
Here’s what you need to know.
If the hybrid option is chosen, students in Kindergarten through eighth grade will be divided by last name into two groups, Blue and Green, and will attend school in-person either on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. The remaining three days of the school week will be designated for virtual learning at home.
Superintendent Amy Minor said Colchester High School is in the process of surveying families to find out what kind of schedule will work best for students in grades nine through 12.
“Essex High School and Champlain Valley Union are in the same place,” Minor said. “High schools are putting final touches on their schedules and that information will be forthcoming.”
As of now, high school students will also be divided into two groups, Lakers and Champ, and will attend in-person classes either on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday.
Minor said students in lower grades who have selected the hybrid learning option will work with the same teacher in-person as they will remotely.
“The hybrid model is asking our teachers to be planning for both in-person instruction and remote learning at the same time,” Minor said.
What students learn in person on Monday and Tuesday for example, will be reinforced and continued remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“At home, students will probably be working on some tasks to demonstrate and to practice those skills that they just learned in the classroom,” Minor said. “We’re really committed to doing remote learning in a much more rigorous way than our students experienced this spring.”
Fully remote instruction
Those who select fully remote instruction for reasons including but not limited to, student or family member health and safety concerns, or elevated health risks, will participate in virtual programming five days a week.
Based on how many families elect to receive virtual learning and the staffing levels required, classes could be grouped across grade levels. For example, Kindergarten and first grade students could share lessons.
Though there will be some opportunities for live meetings on Zoom or Google Meet, most virtual lessons will be pre-recorded, so families can manage their own schedules.
CSD has warned that students participating in fully-remote learning, especially those in younger grades, will require significant parent or caregiver oversight.
Attendance, grading and workload will be consistent with in-person classes, and CSD is working to organize pick-up dates for students who require technology or textbooks.
The district does not yet know which teachers will be participating in hybrid instruction and which will be teaching completely remote because it is waiting to assign teachers until after families have filled out the registration form designating their choice of hybrid of fully remote instruction.
“Once we know what model families choose, at that point we can start to think about student schedules and teacher schedules,” Minor said.
During the district’s planning process, Minor said Colchester teachers were not surveyed like families were about their concerns and preferences.
“You become an educator because your preference is to work with students in-person,” Minor said. “We know that is the best model to deliver education to our students, and that’s part of the reason we didn’t survey teachers.”
Transportation, Lunch, Field Trips and Recess
Due to restrictions being placed on activities typically used for socializing, students participating in either model may have limited opportunities to socialize with friends or peers who are not in their immediate class.
According to state guidance, spaces like cafeterias that were once used to hold large groups of people will be closed for their originally intended purposes, Minor said.
On days when students are learning in school buildings, individually-packed lunches will be provided for students to eat in their classrooms, so the mandated six-foot social distance can be maintained.
CSD is developing a plan for state-funded meal pick-up or delivery for the three or five days a week when students are learning remotely.
“This spring our food service crew and many other district employees did a fantastic job of delivering meals throughout the community, and we’re really committed to continuing those efforts,” Minor said.
Outdoor recess will still be a part of in-person learning days for younger grades, but playground equipment will remain closed at all schools. Face masks will not be required outside, as long as a distance of six-feet can be maintained at all times.
In an effort to limit the number of people coming and going from the school buildings each day, visitors and classroom volunteers will not be allowed. In addition, there will be no field trips for the foreseeable future.
Students can still be transported to school on in-person learning days via bus, but CSD is strongly encouraging families to transport their own children if possible. Individual transportation would allow for better distancing on the bus for those families who rely on district transportation.
“There is no good solution here,” Minor said. “I want to be able to embrace our students, but I also want to make sure I’m doing it safely for our students, for all of the individuals that live in their household who they go home to, and of course, for our employees. We’re all in this together.”
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