Kathy Dzewaltowski, observer
The bulk of the meeting focused on the hybrid learning model, which involves students attending school two days a week and receiving remote instruction the other three days.
During public comment, several parents addressed the board and expressed their frustrations with the hybrid model. Dr. Ryan Knopp, MD, also addressed the board from a public health perspective. Dr. Knopp said we’re still in the middle of a health crisis, he recommended that the district continue with the hybrid model, and he would expect that if the decision were made to return to five days of schooling, that the decision was made based on sound data.
Dr. Paula Hough, Dir. of Teaching and Learning, reported to the board that after receiving a number of communications from parents prior to Labor Day, expressing concerns about KSU students in classrooms in light of the higher numbers of positive virus cases in that age group, she and Dr. Marvin Wade, Superintendent, had met with KSU students to go over the district’s handbook and expectations. If KSU students travel out-of-state, they are expected to quarantine on their return. She also said only KSU interns (student teachers) are in classrooms, and other KSU education students are all online.
Eric Reid, Asst. Supt., reported that he’d had a Zoom meeting with the Kansas Dept. of Education (KSDE), and they had discussed accountability and the struggles families were having with the learning logs. KSDE was agreeable to discontinuing the logs and replacing them with a “parent assurance” form, which parents sign to show they will do the best they can to help their students learn.
Erin Meyers-Gambrel, NEA representative, presented the board with results of a survey she had sent to school staff. Results indicated staff didn’t think it would be safe for students or staff to return to 5-day weeks.
Three elementary teachers participated in a sort of panel discussion to share their experiences with hybrid learning. They expressed concerns about seeing kids in person only two days a week, concerns about already having a full plate and being asked to do more, concerns that colleagues might resign over concerns about exposure to the virus, and concerns about special education and other at-risk students. They also noted positives of the hybrid model, such as having smaller classes and getting to really know their students. Keeping para-educators has been an issue, especially since many are older and worried about exposure to the virus. The hybrid model helps reduce the need to be with every student every day at a time when staffing is an issue. Mr. Reid provided the board with an administrator’s perspective on the hybrid model and said he was concerned that if the district returned to a 5-day week too early, the district might lose staff because of it.
Board members shared their thoughts on the hybrid model. Jurdene Coleman asked other board members to think about what their priorities are. She said her priority was to keep teachers because the district has to have staff in order to have school. She also wondered if it were a priority to stop community spread of the virus. Kristin Brighton wondered if there might be a way to improve the quality of hybrid learning and wondered if the days students are at school could change. Currently, one group attends school Monday and Tuesday, Wednesdays no students are at school and schools are cleaned, and a second group of students attend school on Thursday and Friday. Ms. Brighton wondered if it would help to have one group attend on Monday and Thursday, and the second group to attend Tuesday and Friday, instead of having 5 days in a row of remote learning. She said her priority is to find the best solution and mitigate risk. Curt Herrman said his priority is the safety of students and staff and then education. Darell Edie was concerned about families’ stress levels. Brandy Santos asked about students in “Group D.” Dr. Wade explained that Group D students are students of teachers and staff who are allowed to be at school four days a week. He said it’s a way to support staff (who need childcare), and he viewed it as a benefit of the job. Ms. Santos asked when did education become a perk and asked if students at school four days a week are receiving the same education as students who attend two days? It was explained that Group D students work on their remote learning lessons on their own when they’re at school on one of the extra days. Ms. Santos was rather angry at the idea that the district was providing what she viewed as babysitting. Ms. Coleman said it was clear from the beginning that teachers would have the option of having their students in school four days a week, so she didn’t know why Ms. Santos was surprised by it.
Katrina Lewison asked if teacher frustration was about the possibility of infection or the workload. Ms. Meyers-Gambrel said it was both, with teachers in two different groups. She said one group is worried about their own mortality or a family member’s mortality, and another group is worried about the workload. She said there is especially a problem at the middle school level with the workload, where there are no designated remote-only teachers, there have been some resignations, and that results in more work for those who remain. Ms. Lewison asked about special education students, and Ms. Meyers-Gambrel said those students’ cases are are handled on a case by case level. Ms. Lewison asked Dr. Knopp what the endpoint is if we flattened the curve. Dr. Knopp said flattening the curve bought time to develop therapeutics. He said we’re trying to limit death and morbidity, and the virulence is the same as it has been. He thought the district has been doing well and has put the right protocols in place, but if one of the tools in the toolkit gets removed, it could lead to worse outcomes than we’re seeing now. Dr. Knopp said the positivity rate is one metric, but other metrics include the incident rate, staffing capacity, ICU capacity, etc. If the district does things right in schools, that helps the broader community. Ms. Lewison wondered why some districts have been able to have in-person school five days a week. Dr. Knopp said smaller schools might be able to use all the tools in the toolkit consistently better, and transmission rate isn’t as high yet in non-college towns.
The board approved continuing with the hybrid model until Oct. 22, while continually evaluating the situation. Board members decided to schedule a work session for Sept. 23 to discuss how to improve the hybrid model.