Next year in Jeffco Public Schools, “we want to create the opportunity for our students to be in our schools,” said Kristopher Schuh, deputy superintendent, during a May 13 board of education …
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The draft plan is available here for community feedback.
Next year in Jeffco Public Schools, “we want to create the opportunity for our students to be in our schools,” said Kristopher Schuh, deputy superintendent, during a May 13 board of education study session.
But because of public health and safety restrictions, that opportunity will look much different this year than it did in 2019.
MORE: Cuts to Jeffco schools to hit programs and staff
At the study session, Schuh and district leaders presented a draft of the learning plan next year. He added that the draft is subject to revision between now and July based on changing guidelines and community feedback.
Generally speaking, every Jeffco school will follow one of three models, depending on what works best for their school. Each school can adjust the models to some extent.
In every model, students go to school in-person one day each week. They engage in remote learning during the four days they are not in the school building.
In the “AB” model, half of students attend school in-person on Tuesdays, meeting in classrooms with no more than nine students and one teacher. The other half of students attend on Thursdays.
Students could be split into the A group and B group based on grade, last name or another system, Schuh said.
In “ABC”, a third of students attend in-person Tuesday, a third Wednesday and a third Thursday. In “ABCD,” a quarter of students attend on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
At every school, all students will also have the option to enroll completely online and never attend classes in-person. If a school has a high number of students enroll online-only, that may pave the way for a school to organize for students to come in twice a week — an “ABAB” schedule, Schuh said.
He added that at some point in the year, “the cases of COVID could increase and we may have to move back into a remote environment.”
Additional precautions will include symptom screening at the door; asking students to eat lunch in classrooms instead of the cafeteria; and hand-washing protocols.
Many of the details of the draft have yet to be finalized. The district is seeking employee feedback first and will seek community feedback starting May 22 through its emailed community update. It will create a final plan in July.
Superintendent Jason Glass added that while the plan is not ideal, the district is severely limited by millions in pending budget cuts and restrictions on the number of people that can be in one room. If the district receives direction that more than 10 people can gather in August, the plan could change, he said.
In the meantime, some local parents and teachers are finding themselves daunted by the idea of extending remote learning for such a lengthy period of time.
The notion brings up several concerns for Heather Kennedy, whose two elementary-aged children attend Mountain Phoenix Community School in Wheat Ridge.
The mother and organizer behind two state youth programs said that the proposed schedule “would significantly limit my ability to continue to work.”
“Women still do the lion’s share of child care, regardless of whether these are working women or not,” she said. “I’m really worried how these decisions will impact women’s pay and women’s career trajectories.”
Jen Halsall, whose second-grade daughter attends Warder Elementary in Arvada, agreed that there could be an issue if parents are expected to be at home next year in the same way they have been during the height of the pandemic.
“When their workplace opens up ... The elementary kids are not old enough to stay home alone, let alone be expected to do their schoolwork alone, while a parent is not there,” she said. “And I worry about middle and high school students getting into trouble on their own.”
Another concern, Kennedy said, has been the effectiveness of online education for her first- and third-grade children. One of Kennedy’s children has an IEP (individualized education program) because he struggles with reading, and so far, the family has found that the online environment has made it difficult for him to get the help he needs.
“It isn’t working. We’ve been paying an outside tutor because in this moment, I have the financial ability to do so. I don’t believe my child would have learned otherwise,” she said. “It was tolerable because it was for three months. But next year, I don’t know. I think very little will be gained (with a mostly remote approach).”
At Arvada’s Pomona High School, theatre co-director Olivia Newman has also noticed that the online environment poses some educational barriers.
“The benefit of having a student in front of you is the ability to adjust how one is teaching on the fly,” she said. “A student can more readily communicate that they are not understanding the lesson, or ask questions, or even comment on how well they are enjoying the learning.”
If the draft goes forward, another issue could be the demand on teachers.
“Will we need to prepare multiple lesson plans per day? How can we ensure that remote learners are engaging and taken care of while we teach the students at school during the day?” she said. “And does that mean we are then teaching in the evenings when we come home? The uncertainty is daunting.”
Newman praised the district for looking at every possible option, but said with so many unknowns remaining, it is hard for her to determine whether she thinks the plan could work for next year.
But if it does become reality, “I plan to over-communicate with anyone and everyone involved in the school community — students and parents alike, equally,” Newman said. “The biggest idea that I hold onto is that we are all in the pursuit of greatness together.”
Other strategies to consider include relying more heavily on video chats or other modes of instruction, Halsall said.
“If schools send assignments to be done without some direct instruction, then the child is essentially teaching themselves, or the parent is teaching the child, or the assignment is busywork that didn’t need to be assigned in the first place,” she said. “Now that they (the district) know more of what online learning looks like, I imagine next year would look quite a bit differently than these last months.”
As for Kennedy, a question remains of whether authorities could search for another solution that balances educational and economic needs with public health.
“I’m more worried for children who rely on school for food and a safe and warm place to be,” she said. “We should not have a one-size-fits-all approach. I believe we have to be doing more.”
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