With a deadline looming for detailed plans on reopening buildings for fall instruction, Spokane Public Schools will hold a series of webinars over the next two weeks to allow parents to provide feedback on several options developed by the district.
District-formed committees have developed plans for elementary and secondary instruction that would meet the required 6 feet of social distancing mandated by the state, a hurdle that will put a strain on space and likely force older students to complete coursework both at home and in classrooms.
“There’s pros and cons to each,” said Mark Anderson, the district’s associate superintendent. “There’s no perfect option, but we’re going to find the best one that meets those needs.”
The first virtual event will take place Thursday at 6:30 p.m., with another to follow July 23. On July 30, the district will discuss options for families that choose to keep their students home for the upcoming school year.
Discussions began Monday with the Spokane Education Association, the union representing certificated teachers, classroom specialists and other district employees. Four options have been developed for elementary instruction, and two for secondary students (grades 7 and up). Two options for elementary buildings would shorten the school day by up to 40 minutes, with classes beginning as early as 8:30 a.m. and releasing as early as 2:20 p.m. In one option, specialist classrooms – those used for art, music and science – would be converted to traditional classrooms in order to limit the number of pupils in one room to 21. In another, those specialist teachers would provide 30 minutes of prep time twice a week for traditional classroom teachers.
A third elementary option would use federal coronavirus aid dollars to hire additional staff as classroom teachers and keep the specialist instructors, while keeping the school day the same length. A fourth option would call for students in fifth and sixth grades to attend classes at school on alternating days, freeing up some classrooms for instruction for kindergarten and first-, second-, third- and fourth-grade students.
“Those are the students who have the most need for in-person instruction, for them online doesn’t work so well,” Anderson said. “Also, the day care issue, once parents start going back to work, we’d be providing that for the younger students.”
In all elementary options, students would be served meals in classrooms to avoid large gatherings that could spread the virus. Students and staff would be required to wear cloth face coverings, and the district is developing a plan to screen for COVID-19 symptoms prior to attending class, per the requirements laid out by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction.
Secondary instruction at middle and high schools would follow a similar model, with students attending class at school two or three times a week on a rotating basis. School officials have suggested a three- or six-period class day when students are in the building, with cleaning days either on Wednesdays or Fridays throughout the school year.
Plans have been developed in consultation with teachers at each level, Anderson said, and have included representatives of bargaining units with the district. A final plan for the new school year is scheduled for adoption by Aug. 12, in order to coincide with the first day of school, scheduled for Sept. 3. The options being discussed are fluid and could change based on feedback from parents or instructors, Anderson said.
Parents will be allowed to register their child for a distance learning-only option once the classroom plans are finalized for the new school year. Because much of the staffing and space requirements will depend on how many students want to return to classrooms, Anderson said a choice to keep a student at home for distance learning may be binding at first.
“We would like to be nimble and allow someone to change their mind,” Anderson said. “We are going to ask for a commitment of folks who would prefer only the online instruction, after they see the models.”
The online webinars will be held via Zoom, and questions will be accepted via the chat feature in the application, Anderson said. Those interested in attending can find a link for doing so at www.spokaneschools.org/reopeningupdates.
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