Beginning Monday, students in the Fairbanks School District will start the process of phasing in full-time, in-person learning.
“If our current course remains steady, we will be looking at our first five-day week on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020,” Superintendent Adham Schirg wrote in a letter to parents, students and staff.
In a conversation this morning, Schirg said the final decision won’t be made until Thursday, “after the release of local data.”
Fairbanks opened the school year in Learning Level 2, which has half of the students in the building for two days and learning remotely the other days. Officials decided to move to Learning Level 1 where students would attend in-person classes five days a week. That fulltime in-person learning was set to begin last week, however a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff forced the district to reconsider and remain at Learning Level 2. Last week the district met to discuss the process of when and how to return to full-time, in-person learning.
“We are still going to go to the phased-in model,” Schirg said this morning.
As part of that phase in, students will go to school, all day, in person on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the weeks of Oct. 19 and 26. Students will learn remotely on Wednesday those weeks so buildings can be cleaned.
Students will also learn remotely Tuesday, Nov. 3 because the high school is used as a polling place for the election. Schirg said that day of remote learning was planned before the pandemic.
If all goes well during the phase in, the week of Monday, Nov. 9 and moving forward, students will be in school, in-person following the regular school calendar.
“The hope is that we continue to progress in a positive direction,” Schirg said.
Families that would like to transition to the Fairbanks Local Digital Academy will have another opportunity as the district moves to Learning Level 1. Families are being asked to contact their school counselor to begin the process of enrolling in the digital academy. Those with questions about the digital academy are being asked to email Fairbanks Director of Curriculum Teresa Goins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schirg said the district will reassess learning levels every four to six weeks using state, local and school health data including student and staff absentee rates. It also includes the number of positive COVID-19 infections.
Schirg said that in addition to the number of confirmed cases, quarantined students and staff members also factor into decision making. The ability to staff classrooms, buses, custodial staff and food service teams will all factor in operational shifts that may occur. He said several schools from across the state have recently shifted to remote learning due to staffing considerations.
“As we have throughout the start of this year, we will continue to evaluate several data sources daily to determine if adjustments to the current Learning Level are needed,” Schirg said.
At a recent work session, school officials expressed concern about bouncing back and forth between learning levels. Schirg said that remains a possibility.
“We know that this year is going to require agility,” Schirg said. “Our hope is that can stay consistent. Our goal is that we can not bounce back and forth, but that is what this year is shaping up like.”
He said that each learning level carries with it risks. He said full remote learning has high socioemotional and academic risk but lower health and safety risk. Full-time, in person learning has lower academic, social and emotional risk, but higher health risk.
“It is balancing those things,” Schirg said. “We are walking a tightrope balancing those things this year.”
District officials said the community will play a role in keeping students in school. He said the community can follow best practices to minimize and slow the spread of the virus.
“This is a partnership between the school, the staff, families and students and the community to advocate for our students to be school learning in-person,” Schirg said. “It is going to take diligence from all of us to maintain this in-person.”
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