Board votes on return to face-to-face learning

By Grace Cueter and Farrah Fasse

On Feb. 8, after two hours of public comments from parents, students and teachers, the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the district administration’s plan to return to full time face-to-face learning. The decision will cause elementary schools to transfer to a full time face-to-face schedule on March 1, with secondary schools doing the same on March 15.
Although some community members have expressed concerns regarding safety as a result of the new plan, especially during public comments at board meetings, board president Joseph Herd says that the details of the proposed plan are not final. He has faith in district administration to take community feedback and concerns into consideration.
“I’m satisfied with it as it was drafted and approved (at the Feb. 8 meeting). I think one of the things that was said … was that it still is a work in progress. We have a smart community here. And, when they’re raising concerns, they’re worth investigating. … I think that the draft that was approved last night may not (address) every single issue, but it’s a very good start,” Herd said.
During the Feb. 22 meeting, district administration presented an updated version of the plan that addressed more of the safety protocols that will be in place in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Some of these measures include vaccination of teachers, ventilation, mass Covid-19 testing of secondary students, social distancing and several other protocols. In addition to these, the district also plans to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent guidelines on reopening schools as best as possible. The guidelines include procedures such as physical distancing, diligent mask wearing and frequent sanitation, as well as other preventative measures.
Even though the district plans to implement more safety standards, senior Chris Marshall believes that the district’s current measures are sufficient.
“The current precautions that the school is taking… washing desks before every class, one staircase going up and down, distanced desks and mandatory masks have all worked,” Marshall said. “Anything beyond that may overcomplicate things.”
Herd says the district is exploring different options for what a return to face-to-face learning will truly look like, including a model similar to the hybrid schedule, where Zoom classes would be streamed for the time students aren’t in in-person classes according to their cohort. He says that one of his biggest priorities and other motivations behind voting for the plan was the hope that the district can continue planning and moving forward with ways that learning can be adapted and improved to best benefit students, even through the pandemic.
Economics teacher Sean McCarroll wrote an open letter to the board prior to the Feb. 8 meeting expressing his discontent with the plan to return full-time face-to-face. He cited current problems with hybrid learning, including the lack of student support time and difficulty for students to collaborate in class, which would only be exacerbated if a full time schedule was implemented. McCarroll also believes that the benefits of a full time face-to-face education are overstated, given the limitations on what educators like him can do in classrooms, and the fact that many students were already succeeding in both the fully virtual and hybrid environments. However, he does believe that there should be extra supports in place for students struggling with a lack of solid structure. McCarroll was also dismayed by the district’s failure to consult teachers about the full time face-to-face schedule.
“I think just the big thing that a lot of teachers are frustrated about is that we’re being told to do this thing, because it’s going to be instructionally better, but nobody who actually has experience in teaching has contributed to this plan,” McCarroll said. “And we know it’s not going to be instructionally better, it’s going to be instructionally different. Better is not the right word to use. I think teachers are just frustrated that a decision was made, despite what we suggested.”
The idea of returning to school full time has been a point of contention, especially among parents who frequently air their grievances and continuously debate with those who have differing opinions in public forums. Herd recognizes the divisive nature of the issue, as well as the anxiety that navigating the uncharted territory of pandemic learning can cause. However, he encourages parents to unite on the basis of most of the arguments: the welfare of their children.
“I would ask both sides to step back and remember that you’re talking to people, who a lot of them probably were friends before this began,” Herd said. “(It’s important) not to let something that really should be uniting us, trying to do the best for our children, divide us.”



Image Credit: Grace Cueter