Bayfield schools will open a week late, Aug. 24, but the exact manner of schooling during the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be determined.
La Plata County school districts have been weighing their options for reopening schools while maintaining a safe learning environment as COVID-19 cases continue to increase. They’re not alone – districts around the country face the same, seemingly impossible task. In Bayfield, parents and staff members have expressed concerns during meetings and through a community survey. In response, the district is considering a hybrid model of both in-person and online learning.
“We’re trying to optimize a situation that’s not perfect,” said Mike Foutz, school board president. “We’re not going to be able to 100% please people. We’re trying to do the best we can to pick the optimal solution.”
In one major decision, the school board voted unanimously to approve a delayed start during a board meeting Tuesday. Foutz said the district’s next big move was to consider using the hybrid model.
Students would be divided into smaller groups to reduce overall class size. The goal is a ratio of 15 students to one teacher in the classroom, said board member Mary Lynne Herr.
Each group would attend classes at school two days a week and virtual classes three days a week. The groups’ in-person days would alternate to assist with social-distancing practices.
The hybrid model offers more flexibility to keep elective classes in place, said Superintendent Kevin Aten. Students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, would not see a change. Their existing cohort models already comply with public health guidance, he said.
The Board of Education will consider the district’s final draft reopening plan, including possible hybrid classes, Aug. 11.
“The decision to go ahead and make that step to me is a pretty big one. It’s going to be hard for people,” Foutz said.
For example, teachers would have to balance online and in-person curricula, while schools are reopening for the first time since March, he said.
“But everybody agreed that, at least in concept, it’s probably the best way to get kids back in school,” he said.
The district began considering the idea in response to community feedback through an online survey and during public meetings.
Parents raised concerns during board meetings about face-covering requirements and their students’ educational or developmental needs. Staff members were concerned about how in-person schooling could be done safely.
“Their voices have been heard,” Herr said. “We are equally concerned about student safety and staff safety. That is our No. 1 concern.”
The district also released a survey to gather community input on its draft reopening plan, released July 21. Of 530 respondents, the majority were parents and guardians. Slightly more than 13% were staff members, or staff with children in the district.
More than half the respondents approved of the draft reopening plan while about a third did not, according to a survey analysis by Herr and district staff.
The plan outlined new policies, such as options for students to participate in online or in-person classes and mask requirements for students in grades six to 12.
Of 480 people who mentioned instructional options in their responses, 37% favored in-person learning, while 24% preferred a hybrid model. About 3% said they would home-school their children.
“We have high confidence in our principals and our staff,” Herr said. “Our goal is to open schools as safely as we can.”