Jonathan Alder and Fairbanks school districts have each said they will open the school year with a mixed approach of in-class and online learning.
Alder officials announced their plan Tuesday as part of a special school board meeting. Additionally, the district announced it would push its start date for students to Aug. 24.
Fairbanks announced its decision Monday following a board work session. Fairbanks Superintendent Adham Schirg said that by starting the year with a blended approach the district can, “start slow to go fast.”
He said the district will begin the year on Learning Level 2, meaning students will go to the school building two days a week and learn online for three days a week.
The district will remain in Learning Level 2 for the first four weeks of the school year.
“At the four-week mark, we will reevaluate the learning level and determine if a shift is warranted,” Schirg wrote in a letter to Fairbanks families and staff.
The superintendent said the district will monitor local and school data including student absenteeism, staff absenteeism and COVID-19 cases. Additionally, district officials will meet with the Union County Health Department weekly.
The superintendent said officials had hoped it would not come to this.
“We are all of the opinion that we want to be in school five days a week,” Schirg said. “There is not a single person in our school district that does not want to see that. What we want to be able to show and to prove to our parents and our students and our staff is that our plan will keep them safe.”
He explained that district officials will use the weeks with 50% occupancy to “prove we can keep our environment safe regarding COVID-19 and the way that we handle cases and potential issues that arise with staffing, with student absenteeism and with other factors that, quite frankly, we can’t predict right now.”
He said as the district builds confidence and demonstrates the ability to “scale up” officials will look at bringing more students to the buildings.
“Our goal is to reacclimate, build confidence, build comfort in these practices so at some point, hopefully four to six weeks into the school year, we can look at scaling up to 100%,” Schirg said.
District officials said in-person days will be communicated to families prior to the school year and family members will be scheduled for the same days to help families plan. Transportation may be limited or amended from the current routing and schedule.
Schirg said officials understand the challenges blended learning option presents to parents, students and staff, “however we will do it together and we will continue to support every facet as much as we can over the coming days and coming weeks.”
Under Learning Level 2, there is “more flexibility in masking practices,” according to the district information, though administrators understand Gov. DeWine’s mandates Tuesday could impact that.
Students will be required to wear masks in hallways and in classrooms where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. Mask breaks will be given during lunch and outside when distancing is possible.
Under the Jonathan Alder plan, students with last names A-K will go to class in person on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students with last names L-Z will go to class on Thursdays and Fridays.
Students will have online learning on days they are not in the school buildings.
Gary Chapman, Jonathan Alder Superintendent, said there will be “an appeals process” for students who need to attend on different days.
He said the Madison County Health Department guidelines regarding masks are the same or more restrictive than the guidelines provided Tuesday by the governor.
Alder officials did not give a timeline for when they anticipated to have students back in the class full time or when they would evaluate the possibility. Chapman did say the decision will not be based solely on the risk level of any one particular county, noting the district actually has land in three counties.
“We will use those as a guide, but we will not lock into those because there are several more factors that go into that,” Chapman said.
He said one factor will be student and teacher absenteeism.
“That could impact our decision at any time,” Chapman said.
Mark Fenik, director of operations for the district, said he is working with district custodians, “so that we can establish a regular schedule” for cleaning the buildings. He said classrooms will be sanitized nightly. Busses will be sanitized twice a day.
Assistant Superintendent Misty Swanger said “around 90 students” have signed up for the Jonathan Alder Digital Academy.
She said that represents about 4.6% of students. She said district officials were anticipating about 7% enrollment.
Chapman said building level administrators are working through building specific plans. He said those plans will be communicated to affected students and parents later this week.
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