STC to start year with hybrid plan

School board votes 3-1 to return to school with A/B model

STC Elementary students at the 2019 Veterans Day Program File Photo

Plans for the return to school in August took another step forward at South Tama County last week when the school board voted to begin the fall semester using an A/B hybrid scheduling model.

Superintendent Jared Smith presented findings from a parent survey as well as a response from the Iowa Department of Education regarding how a plan for partial in-person learning would comply with a recent proclamation issued by Governor Kim Reynolds.

Survey results indicated that a significant number of parents would choose to keep their child home if the school reopened with all students returning to the building full time. Of the 587 responses, 46 percent said they would choose to keep their child home under a full time return plan. A much smaller number answered that they would choose to keep their child home if the school used a half time return plan instead. Around 28 percent of parents responding would choose to keep their child home if the school reopened with a half time return plan, indicating that more parents would feel comfortable allowing their kids to return to the classroom if the overall number of people in the building on a given day was reduced.

Prior to last week’s meeting the tentative plan had been to bring students back under an A/B hybrid schedule that would split the student body into two groups and give Wednesdays as a day where no students would be on campus and deep cleaning and sanitizing could occur.

Smith posed the plan to the Iowa Department of Education and their response was to say that the hybrid schedule would meet state guidelines if students would be on campus on Wednesdays. This adjustment would satisfy the requirement that half of the school’s student instruction be done in-person over any two week period.

After some discussion Kline motioned to approve the A/B hybrid schedule with the rotating Wednesday adjustment required by the state. Werner seconded the motion. The schedule was approved on a 3-1 vote. Lekin voted against the plan citing concerns about the level of instruction students will receive if they are in class half time and participating in virtual instruction while they’re not in the classroom.

The approved A/B hybrid schedule will split the student body into two groups. Group A will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. Group B will attend in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays the groups will rotate every other week who will attend in-person.

Smith noted that the recommendation toward the hybrid model came after seeing the results of the parent survey and from discussions he and the administrative team at STC have had with other school districts in Tama County who are also considering similar scheduling models. Tama County Public Health was also a part of the meetings and gave their approval to pursue the plan.

Families will also have the option to voluntarily opt their students out of in-person hybrid schedule in favor of a fully distance learning option.

Discussion was had around the possibility of requiring face coverings for staff and students while at school. Although no official vote was held, it appeared to be the consensus opinion to require students wear a face covering at least in the hallways and during transition times. A more stringent requirement would be adopted for staff to wear a face covering in the hallways but also in the classroom.

In support of the face covering requirement, the board approved up to $10,000 for the purchase of a triple-ply face covering for each student and staff member to begin the semester with. A quote had not been acquired yet but Smith said he approached Ultimate Image to inquire about the order.

The board also had a brief discussion about hiring a temporary staff member to act as a COVID-19 tracker who would assist the district and the county public health department with contact tracing and monitoring in the event that a student or staff member tests positive or is exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Although there was no vote held on the matter, the board appeared in favor of the temporary tracker position.

Specific details about how the day-to-day operations of the hybrid schedule or the virtual learning option will work were not yet finalized at the time of last week’s special board meeting.

Reassessment of the school schedule and COVID-19 operating procedures is planned to occur at the end of the first quarter on October 20.

The following day Superintendent Smith held a public question and answer session online where he fielded questions from staff and the public.

During the question and answer period Smith clarified a couple of details about the upcoming return to school. The school will attempt to group students of the same household together in the same A or B hybrid group so families could all remain on the same schedule.

Following a question from a parent, Smith also indicated that STC was not planning to conduct temperature checks for students and staff at school entrances due to the logistical challenges of individually screening hundreds of students each morning.

School administrative teams and return to learn committees will work during the last week of July toward forming more specific details about daily operating procedures under the A/B hybrid scheduling system. That detailed plan is scheduled to go before the school board on August 3. Parents and community stakeholders will have a week to offer feedback on the detailed plan before the plan is finalized the week of August 10.

In a return to learn staff meeting Monday, Smith reported that the administration team would recommend as part of the upcoming detailed plan, to end the in-person school day an hour early as a measure to provide teachers time to conduct the virtual aspects of their classes.