The Roaring Fork Schools have outlined three possible scenarios for conducting classes when the new school year begins in August, depending on the health risk level related to the coronavirus as that time nears.
However, no decisions are likely until the third week of July, district officials have determined.
Recently, the school board was presented with a “Back to School 2020 Roadmap” that is closely aligned with the guidelines for reopening schools that were released by the Colorado Department of Education in late May.
Because of changing conditions related to Colorado’s COVID-19 response, “there is a continuum of possibilities that we are faced with,” Rick Holt, chief academic officer for district schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, explained at the May 27 school board meeting.
“Even if we do get back to face-to-face learning, there are going to be some obstacles, and we realize that,” he said.
The roadmap outlines three scenarios, two of which envision either a full or modified return to classrooms when school begins Aug. 17. Those will depend on whether the health risk is low or medium come mid-summer.
The third scenario, based on a high health risk that could be triggered by a mid-summer spike in COVID-19 cases locally or statewide, would involve continued building closures and a return to distance learning via online platforms.
If a decision were to be made now, the district would likely have to go with the mid-level risk “hybrid learning” model, Holt said.
That would involve classroom sizes of no more than 10 students, staggered schedules, required use of face masks, 6-foot separation between students and staff at all times, and health checks at the door each day, including taking the temperature of students and staff. Outside the classroom, independent online activities would be provided for older students to complete at home.
Short of knowing how things will play out over the next six to eight weeks on the public health front, the school district is not in a position to decide now which scenario will play out, Holt said. A formal decision is not expected until July 24, unless the district has solid information on which to make determinations before that time, he said.
The school board tentatively agreed to five “guiding principles” that district officials and the board will use in making decisions about how to proceed come August, included here.
- Wellness: Prioritize student, staff, and community health, safety, and wellbeing over other principles. We are all responsible for promoting practices and policies to reduce risk of virus transmission and to maintain our capacity to be responsive when facing changing health circumstances.
- Belonging and Engagement: Prefer face-to-face learning over distance learning whenever it is safe to do so. Commit to maintaining regular connections and providing social-emotional support for all, regardless of the mode of learning.
- Mastery: Prioritize grade-level standards and academic rigor while using flexible approaches to filling in critical gaps in learning.
- Equity: Strive for equitable access for all learners while being flexible in meeting unique needs and prioritizing strategically-targeted populations. For example, all populations are entitled to face-to-face interactions, but some age groups and subject areas might need more in-person or real-time learning than others.
- Collaboration: Increase collaboration to guarantee access to high-quality curriculum and resources regardless of changing and variable circumstances.
Holt said the desire for teachers, and especially families, is certainly not to return to distance learning — a stop-gap version of which was used to complete the just-concluded school year after spring break.
The district heard loud and clear through recent parent surveys that distance learning, as implemented this spring, did not live up to people’s expectations as a model going forward, Holt acknowledged.
“We recognize that, and we are going to be making some changes,” he said of the prospect that some level of online instruction may need to continue.
That would involve greater use of real-time, synchronous learning, “because we know our best opportunity for learning is to get teachers in front of kids.”
Also, some families may not feel safe sending their children back to school come fall, and the district will want to accommodate that, Holt said.
Now that instruction has officially concluded for the 2019-20 school year, district teachers this week will be attending a virtual “Summer Academy” session to collaborate on content that can be more easily adapted to either in-classroom or online instruction. A second session is planned for the week of Aug. 3.
Teachers are being asked to wait for the district’s announcement on a learning model for the coming school year before doing any detailed planning, and to assume some component of distance learning will continue, according to the roadmap document.