Choices include remote learning, homeschooling
There are still many uncertainties about the coming school year, but one thing is sure — most students and families will be able to choose the arrangement that works best for them.
After reviewing survey results from almost 300 people and talking with teachers and staff, the Methow Valley School District is proposing three options: a hybrid model where groups of students would alternate, attending school two days a week and doing schoolwork remotely the other three days; 100% remote learning; and, for kindergarten through eighth grade, homeschooling supported by a teacher through the district’s REACH program.
The district plans to present the final choices to students and their families on Monday (Aug. 3), but is still seeking feedback, Methow Valley School District Supt. Tom Venable said.
The district hopes to be able to offer in-person instruction, but that could change if the governor or public health officials determine that COVID cases are too widespread for face-to-face learning to be safe, Venable said.
To develop the options, the district sent out a survey to parents, students and the community. They canvassed teachers and staff and held focus groups. A Reopen MVSD Workgroup of about 30 administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, educational partners and community members analyzed all that input to design the three choices.
Their decisions emphasize the physical safety of students, staff, families and the community, and social and emotional health of students and staff, Venable said.
Survey respondents and teachers were split evenly, half comfortable with some form of in-person instruction and half uncomfortable with any in-person contact, Venable said. The level of discomfort appeared to grow with the recent rise in COVID cases, he said.
Everyone has learned from the abrupt switch to remote learning in the spring, so the district is adapting. To avoid overwhelming emails and interactions with eight different teachers, high school students will have classes split into four double blocks each semester. For example, students who typically spent a year learning algebra would study the full year’s worth of algebra in the first semester, and then would take their entire science class — or another subject — in the second semester.
“The focus is on quality versus quantity to make this more manageable,” Venable said.
Venable presented the options to the school board at its meeting last week. “This is an opportunity to make sense of the uncertainty and ambiguity that surround us,” he said.
How should school look?
People can still provide feedback to the district about the three options for next year. Families should have received a description of the choices last week. It’s also available on the district’s Facebook page.
Email Supt. Tom Venable at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or suggestions.
The board — like families who responded to the survey — appreciated educators’ work to create a successful program and acknowledged the challenges. “No one has ever had to do this — it’s uncharted territory. The stakes are astoundingly high,” school board member Dana Stromberger said.
Any decision will have consequences, whether it’s social isolation, economic hardship or health risks, she said.
If students choose in-person instruction, there will be two groups to allow students and teachers to maintain adequate distance in classrooms and on school buses. One group would attend Monday and Tuesday and the other on Thursday and Friday. That will allow the district to do a deep cleaning of schools and buses on Wednesday.
They plan to incorporate as much outdoor education as possible.
The goal is to give people the opportunity to prepare for some in-person instruction, but to improve the experience of remote learning if that becomes the only option, Venable said.
For remote instruction, the district will use a curriculum approved by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction modified by district teachers to incorporate enrichment or intervention, such as for math or literacy, Venable said. Whatever platform they use, they’ll build in time to teach students and parents how to use it.
Students who need individual support, such as those in special education programs or English-language learners, will get regular in-person instruction, individually or in small groups.
Teachers and staff at higher risk from COVID who aren’t comfortable with in-person contact will be able to teach remotely, Venable said.
Regardless of the format, students’ work will be graded.
The district will continue to provide child care for children of essential workers such as health care providers, first responders and grocery store workers, Venable said. They will also provide meal services.
The school year — in whatever form it takes — starts Aug. 31.
Staff, students will wear masks
Any in-person instruction in Methow Valley schools would require teachers and students to be physically distant and for all to wear masks, in accordance with recommendations from the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks won’t be necessary during recess and lunch, and the school day will be designed to incorporate breaks, Methow Valley School District Supt. Tom Venable told the school board at their meeting last week.
When the board discussed the re-opening options, board member Frank Kline asked if it was safe for children to wear masks all day long, expressing concerns that masks could hinder breathing.
School board members and staff acknowledged that getting the youngest students to wear masks appropriately would be a challenge.
Allison Fitzgerald, a parent and a physician who attended the meeting remotely, offered to summarize the medical and scientific findings about mask use for children. In the summary she provided after the board meeting, Fitzgerald said there are three potential risks regarding mask use — not getting enough oxygen, re-breathing excess carbon dioxide, and reduced immune-system response.
Studies of mask use by adults have found that, despite a sensation of decreased ability to breathe, adults exercising while wearing masks don’t take in less oxygen than mask wearers at rest or people exercising without masks.
Studies of adults wearing masks found no evidence of blood-level changes of carbon dioxide. Health care workers who developed headaches after wearing tightly fitted masks for eight hours showed no blood changes, and the headaches resolved quickly after they removed the mask, Fitzgerald wrote.
The scientific community has found no proof that mask-wearing adversely affects the immune system, she said.
Masks are only appropriate for children who can remove them on their own. Masks can interfere with interpreting non-verbal social cues, Fitzgerald said.
Some families have already said they don’t want their children to wear masks, Venable said.
Students will get distinctive masks sporting original artwork. Liberty Bell High School art teacher Erik Brooks designed a Lion Pride mask for elementary students, with different-colored fabric for each grade.
High school student Lindsay Worrell designed a mask for Liberty Bell students featuring a striking illustration of the Liberty Bell spires.