By Dave Taylor
As the start of the upcoming school year looms on August 26, the school district’s New Normal Task Force is currently meeting to determine how it will look when students return to in-person classes, but some things are already known.
“We are looking at right now an in-person option, every day, every kid, and the remote learning option for families,” said superintendent Kyle Estes.
Remote learning will be an option for families who don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school, or who aren’t able to return for health or other reasons.
But he added that the remote learning option will be much different than the NTI students did in the spring.
“There’s going to be a teacher that’s assigned to those students that elect for remote learning,” he said. “There’s going to be expectations that go well beyond what we had in the spring around engaging students, around trying to foster relationships even though those students are not physically with them.”
“It’s not just going to be a computer program or work packet type scenario,” he said.
While much is still undecided, there will be definite changes in the area of transportation.
“We’ve been extremely flexible in the past and allowed changes on the day of or a few minutes before buses roll out,” he said. “We’re going to need to be rigid so that in the event that a student does contract this virus, we’ve got to know who they have been in contact with. So wherever a child is going to get on the bus, we need that to be the same.”
If a family moves, the bus pickup and drop-off points would obviously change, he said, but the days of catching a ride with someone at the last minute are likely over.
“Being able to change your bus transportation on a daily or weekly basis is not really going to be an option this year,” he said. “And it’s not going to be an option because of health and safety.”
Masks have been a topic of ongoing conversation in society and among parents, with the governor releasing guidelines that require all students from first grade up to wear masks while riding buses and inside when they’re unable to maintain a six foot distance from each other, much like the one currently in place for the whole state.
“So students to and from school, yes, and when they move around, are going to need to wear masks,” he said.
Many have questioned how effectively schools can get young children to wear masks, especially when adults are often unable or unwilling to wear them as required.
“Now we know that’s not perfect and we don’t expect that to be perfect,” he said. “To expect a second grader to have a mask on at all times and to wear it the exact way it’s prescribed to wear it is not really practical.”
But, he said, teachers will instruct students how to wear them and keep them on, and will do their best to keep students safe.
Online registration began July 15, where parents and students can let the district know whether they plan to return for in-person classes or if they plan to attend remotely, but Estes said the choice they make now doesn’t have to be permanent.
“If they’re thinking about remote learning and then they decide as a family that that’s not the best option for their child, we want to make it available, we want to welcome them in the in-person environment,” he said. “So just because you elect one does not necessarily mean that that’s what you’re stuck with.”
The task force will continue to meet and decide what the new rules will be and the plan will be presented at the next regularly scheduled school board meeting on July 23 at 5:30 p.m.