Board member Judy Sailer questioned Superintendent-Principal Shaun Banin during the session on whether the district can develop plans for a full-time return to classes, citing several municipalities and schools that allow that model. Her question led to a larger discussion on the district changing the frequency with which parents can switch back and forth from learning plans, from every two weeks, to once a month or once a marking period. Children who transitioned from virtual to hybrid learning were welcomed back on Oct. 5.
Banin informed board members that the state departments of education and health have not revised their “Road Back” plans for schools during COVID-19, including a 50-percent capacity limit, 6 foot social distancing and mask mandates. The “Road Back” is the state’s guide to reopening schools.
“We’re a month into it right now and there’s a lot of moving goal posts, and can we be more efficient or more productive with the academic time?” board member Brian Lepsis asked. “Is there anything we could be doing at the margin to increase the amount of educational academic time within the given constraints we have at the time?”
Special education, preschool and some kindergarten programs have plans in place if a child’s educational needs necessitate being in school five days a week. Banin said the entry point for students switching instructional models is Oct. 19.
“Some districts are doing one or two marking periods, or a full year, to virtual environments,” he added. “We went the other way and created opportunities for students to return to in-person instruction. Because of that, we have to look at class sizes to be open for those kids as they come back.”
Certain classes are 100-percent remote, such as Spanish for kindergarten through fourth grade students. Other proposed changes were delayed as problems arose with staffing restrictions, scheduling and state guidelines (or lack thereof).
Lepsis argued for lengthening the time switch beginning next month, as more families get familiarized with how school is in both situations. Board members Kevin McCloy and Megan Jones objected, citing family emergencies or other situations that may necessitate a current two-week shift.
“Maybe if we’re two or three months in, maybe that’s the time,” she shared. “But right now, things are changing fast and that’s the wrong attitude for us to have. We should be honest and say every two weeks is a balancing act between giving staff preparation, and being respectful to families regardless whether they’re virtual or hybrid.”
Banin explained that welcoming students back to school full time could create a larger issue in teaching assignments and lengthen the school days of remote students at home. All districts in the state are obligated to provide the same level of education to remote students that they provide to hybrid learners.
Lepsis advised the Tabernacle district to plan for more students full time when a public health emergency no longer exists, and to be well prepared when federal or state guidelines change so parents and staffers are not in a holding pattern.
“We have to be very flexible with our families in this environment, in trying to get a little bit longer,” said board member Col. Stephen Henske. “It helps us, and people can plan on it and could give us a better flexibility on how to structure that semester.”
He also suggested lengthening the switch in instructional models for the betterment of teachers, since they can, at times, be responsible for multiple classes and would need to accommodate more students entering or leaving hybrid learning.
“The state mandates, even if we brought the students back full time, is making sure you’re meeting the needs of virtual students and having classrooms set up for the cohorts and spacing for the students,” Banin cautioned.
“Based on that, when you increase the school day, you have to find a way to make sure you’re giving the instructional time for those not in the building.”
No decision was made on issue. The board’s next meeting is Oct. 19, at 7 p.m., via Zoom. To view the agenda and how to access the meeting, visit TabSchools.org.