Jul 29, 2020 11:01 AM

Hays superintendent answers questions about school reopening plan

Posted Jul 29, 2020 11:01 AM
Kansas News Service file photo
Kansas News Service file photo

Compiled by CRISTINA JANNEY/Hays Post

Amended 2:11 p.m. Thursday, July 30 to reflect change in school policy. CLARIFICATION: Superintendent Ron Wilson initially said in this interview students who would only be attending online would not be able to participate in extracurricular activities because that had been the Kansas State High School Activities Association policy in the past. KSHSAA recently announced a revised policy that would allow students who take all of their classes online to participate in KSHSAA-sanctioned activities. The USD 489 has revised its policy to match KSHSAA. Students who participate in online learning will be able to participate in extracurricular activities.

Reopening dates

The Hays BOE has the ultimate say in the calendar, but is there a date the administration is recommending for reopening?
We have put together four different options the board is considering in terms of when we will reopen schools. We have a time starting Aug. 19, starting on Sept. 1 and starting on Sept. 8. When I say four options, the Aug. 19 option had two options on that date. One would be starting remotely versus starting on-site.

The Hays school board will meet for a special meeting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the Rockwell Administration Center to approve the draft plan and choose a date to start school. The board has already received the draft plan, but the meeting will allow them to bounce ideas off each other. 

Sept. 8 is weeks away, is there a chance that even if the board voted to open in person on Sept. 8, that case numbers and hospitalizations could result in opening in a phase II or phase III?
Absolutely, that is very possible. It is difficult to make real decisions when you are still maybe a month and a half away in terms of what phase you would actually start in. I think you are always two weeks away from being able to make a definite decision about  what phase you should be in based upon what the community restrictions are at that time. 

Right now, we are hopeful that we can start with students back in school, but, at the same time, we have to understand there is always the possibility things might change and force us to rethink what phase we are in and how we would offer education to our kids?

Phases

Can you explain a little about what an average day will be like for a student in each of these phase? I think parents are particularly interested in what hybrid learning will look like.
Remote learning will look similar to what we did last spring. I think the biggest difference is that there would be a little more rigor in terms of what we expect kids to accomplish. Last spring was just so up in the air. People were dealing with a lot of the emotional issues, trying to understand what this virus was and how it was going to affect our lives.  I think now that we have been through this for five months, we have figured out a little bit about the virus and what it does and doesn't do.

Last spring, the motto we shared with teachers was grace because there was a lot parents and kids were going through. I think as we move forward into remote learning if that is where we have to be, we are going to try to do it a little better than we did last spring. We will probably expect kids to do a little more and probably be a little more rigorous than it was last spring.

When talking about the hybrid model, you would have a combination of remote learning and on-site learning. I think it can look various ways. We are still in the process of figuring out what our true hybrid model could look like. There are just so many variables that could play into this. The district has not yet determined how it would split the days students would be in school buildings, how many students could be in a building to minimize risk and how it would separate students into stable groups to attend on-site. On the days students are not in the classroom on-site, they would be doing remote activities overseen by teachers. 

So could some children go Monday, Wednesday, Friday or some students attend in the morning and the other students attend in the afternoon?
Yes. We have considered that model in terms of set scheduled days. We are still trying to figure out the logistics of this for families that require child care on those non-on-site days and how that coordinates with their schedules. Can we get logical-sized groups based on everyone's needs?Some are going to need certain days. Some are even going to use some high school kids for child care. Can we coordinate that with the high school schedules? It is a very complex and confusing logistical situation. We are trying to be accommodating. 

So parents may not know what hybrid learning will look like until the district has to go to that phase?
We are consistently planning. Just because you have seen a plan of our opening out there doesn't mean that is exactly how it's going to look. It is consistent in that we are going to offer on-site, hybrid and remote learning, but we are continuing to plan every day. We are continuing to get information that helps us come up with the best situation for our kids and their learning.

During hybrid learning, we would provide transportation just like we would on a normal day and we would take them home in the same manner. It is kind of like we are building the airplane in the sky as we are flying it.

 Who decides when the school district moves from one phase to the next?
What we are trying to do is develop a matrix of numbers that we can rely on in terms of what is in the community. It could be the number of positive cases we've had in the last two weeks. It could be what is our hospital capacity. We are working with our health professionals in the community to design this matrix, so we have somewhat of a solid basis to help people and ourselves understand it is time to move to a different phase.

Once you have that matrix, will it be a group of people deciding, will it be the board of education, will it be the administration, will it be the county public health officer? Who has the final say?
I don't have a definite answer on that. We would need approval from our county health official to make those determinations. Because it is not necessarily an educational decision, it is a decision made on the health and safety of our community. 

If one student or teacher tests positive at a school, will that trigger the whole school being shut down?
It very well could. The likelihood of having a positive case is fairly high. If that should happen, we will make everyone aware that we have had a positive case. There will probably be a shutdown of that building or an area. It depends on who the positive case was and where they have been. 

We will do cleaning and disinfecting. County officials are going to want to do some contact tracing, and we will have to alert people they may have to quarantine as well. It could be as short as 24 hours. It could be as long as 48 hours. 

That is why we are going to require some flexibility and patience from everyone involved. We would then probably flip quickly into what I would call a hybrid model where they would be doing a couple days of instruction remotely. 

Is there a concern throughout this plan with consistency in learning if you have a move between phases and school that have to be closed down periodically for cleaning? 
This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Specifically it has taken a huge toll on our kids and their learning opportunities. I think we just have to understand this is a unique year. It is going to be called the COVID year of learning. Things are not going to be the same way and occur in that normal, linear, sequential pattern that we are so used to. It is going to require some flexibility and creativity on the teachers' part to make sure certain competencies are being covered for kids.

Procedures in classrooms

How do you plan to social distance in classrooms? Space is a premium in many of the district’s schools and some classrooms are small with large class sizes.
It is going to be very difficult. I think what we have heard is there is a desire to get kids back on site as safely as possible. That is one of the reasons why we will require masks in the school. Although we will make every attempt to spread kids out, there will be times when it will be impossible to maintain a six-foot distance. That is why it is so important that we practice good hygiene. We will be washing hands or sanitizing hands once an hour and try to be as healthy as possible to minimize the risk.

How do you plan to social distance in cafeterias. I am thinking specifically about the HMS cafeteria.
I think all of our sites are making plans to add seating. We are aware that all of our cafeterias are probably the worst areas in terms of the ability to social distance and spread out. Hays Middle School is planning to use the upper section of one side of their gym. We will be pushing the bleachers in and putting additional tables on the top.

How much of a challenge is this going to be to not share supplies?
We want kids to be able to share, and we are going to be going against what we have been practicing for so many years.  We will be recommending or requiring kids to not share supplies. Those supplies that can be handled by multiple students, we will be doing more disinfecting.

Will after school care by an option this year?
Yes. The plan is to still offer after school care. We understand that is an important part of what students need. It's also great for families.

What happens if a child comes to school without a mask?
We will try to help them locate their mask. Maybe they misplaced it. If they don't have one, we will have a mask available. It will be a throw away mask. It is just like if a kid doesn't have a pencil. We're not going to tell them they can't have a pencil. We need people to understand masks are going to be a way of our lives. It is going to pretty important to make sure the kids have their masks as they leave their homes every morning.

Online learning

What will parent choice online learning look like?
We will be offering a curriculum platform called Edgenuity. It is what we have used at the high school level for credit recovery. It is a curriculum that is very rigorous. It allows kids to get in all of their core subjects plus a few electives.

You might receive a five to 15 minute instructional video on a lesson that can be rewound or fast forwarded and played over and over. The student then goes in and does assignments. Once they achieve mastery in that lesson, they move on to the next lesson. 

We will be offering this K-12. A USD 489 teacher will be overseeing this program to see if kids are logging on and helping them answer some questions if they can't be answered through the curriculum platform. 

I think it is a great learning opportunity for kids. To be honest, I don't think it is the best learning opportunity, but considering what we are in and what certain families feel about sending their kids to school, I think it is a great option.

Can families start their child or children online and then move back to in-person learning?
It is definitely our goal to be as flexible as possible. We understand circumstances may change as we go through this school year. Some of that may mean I want to bring my kid back to on-site learning becuase community risk may be fairly low. We will definitely take them with open arms and bring them on-site. 

The thing we ask is that there is not a lot of flipping back and forth. I think that will dramatically affect the kids learning if they are jumping from on-site learning and then jumping back to online. 

What local support is offered for online learning options?
You would be able to get school lunch. You would be able to get tech support. The teacher is there to support the learner. It could be social emotional needs. We would require that the teacher make contact at least one time per day. 

If you are an online student, can you participate in extracurricular activities?
CLARIFICATION: Superintendent Ron Wilson initially said in this interview students who would only be attending online would not be able to participate in extracurricular activities because that had been the Kansas State High School Activities Association policy in the past. KSHSAA recently announced a revised policy that would allow students who take all of their classes online to participate in KSHSAA-sanctioned activities. The USD 489 has revised its policy to match KSHSAA. Students who participate in online learning will be able to participate in extracurricular activities.

Time commitment for online learning?
The expectation is that they would put in roughly six hours per day. We would require students to log those times with a parent sign off. It could happen in two-hour segments or in one-hour segments. That is the flexibility with the online learning piece.

Transportation

Because temperatures are going to be taken, will there be staggered drop off times to allow for this all to be done?
We are still trying to work out the logistics of how we are going to take temperatures in the morning to not have kids all congregate in one area as they wait for their temperatures to be taken. I think we will have a good plan in place to avoid those situations. 

How will you achieve social distancing on buses for athletic or activity travel?
Not very easily. There is just no easy way to social distance on a bus. We will require all students and bus drivers to wear masks. We are going to try to implement assigned seating so if we have any type of positive case, we know exactly where kids have been and who they've been by. 

Teachers

What feedback have you had from teachers on the draft plan?
The No. 1 thing I hear from teachers is that they want to have their kids back in the classroom. However, they also understand there are things that might prevent that from happening. We value our teacher and their input. They are the cornerstone of everything we do. We want teachers to feel comfortable and safe. 

Will any teachers be allowed to work remotely, especially those with risk factors?
We have sent out questionnaires to teachers about their comfort level and factors they have personally. We are working through all those issues as they come to us. We want to accommodate as much as possible. Logistically it is difficult. We want that teacher teaching, and we will do everything in power to make that happen.

Will masks PPE be provided to teachers and staff?
Yes. Masks will be provided to all staff in USD 489.

What about school nurses? At the end of the last school year some schools were sharing nurses.
We took a recommendation to the board a couple of months ago knowing going forward that COVID was probably going to still be here in the fall. We were approved to hire another school nurse assistant. We will be adding another health professional to our staff, so we should have all schools covered full time.

Enrollment

Why is important to enroll now?
We do need that information for planning. One of the questions we are asking is where do you prefer your child start at. If you are choosing parent off-site learning, that is going to help us plan and adequately staff that.

At the same time, if you are opting for the on-site learning option, we will know how many kids we are going to have. We need people to enroll online.

We do have enrollment scheduled on-site at the high school Wednesday and Thursday. That enrollment is for families who are new to the district or do not have adequate resources to do online enrollment. As of Monday morning, 1,200 of about 3,000 students had enrolled. 

More on how to complete online enrollment for USD 489 can be found by clicking here.

If parents have a specific questions about their children or school, how can they get that question answered?
I encourage them to call our office — 623-2400. Don't hesitate, or an email. 

The district also will be adding to its frequently asked question list on its website