HOISINGTON -- At Monday night’s meeting, the Hoisington USD 431 Board of Education wrestled with how the district could best support teachers as they move forward teaching classes in-person while responding to the needs of remote learners.
Fourteen days into the new school year, each building principal provided positive reports on how students and staff have been handling the return to school so far. Many of the fears about enforcing the use of masks, washing and sanitizing hands and daily temperature taking have been allayed. Students are happy to be back at school and are not balking at requirements. They arrive at school, mask up, get their temperatures taken and proceed to class. No far, no student has been sent home for a high temperature, which indicates parents are also being good about checking their children at home before sending them to school.
Students who started the school year in quarantine are now returning to in-person class. Only a few are finishing up their order and should return later this week or early next. Each school also had students whose parents chose the remote option at the beginning of the year, but as of this week, nearly half in each school had opted to return to in-person classes. Now, nine each at the elementary schools, eight at the middle school and 15 at the high school are attending remotely.
Lincoln Elementary School Principal Karissa Cowan described the process. Students log into Google Classrooms at home, and the teacher logs into the program from a school Chromebook. The camera is pointed towards the teacher, and the student at home follows along with the rest of the class. As easy as it sounds, it hasn’t been a seamless process.
Sometimes, there are technical glitches, and teachers have to take time away from the classroom to work around them. Audio has gone out, and there have been instances where videos haven’t played. Sometimes, there are connectivity issues, either on the district’s side of learning or at the student’s home.
Cowan praised her teachers for their ability to manage these stresses early on. They’ve figured out fixes and workarounds including using their smartphones or even swapping rooms with other teachers. She also praised the remote learners, who were actively participating, attending classes and getting their work turned in.
Other teachers agreed, for the most part, remote learners were holding up their side of the bargain.
Later in the meeting the approval of the district’s official back to school plan was introduced, and resulted in further discussion of the topic.
Even though school has already started, the plan, based on Governor Kelley’s order and the Kansas State Department of Education’s document “Navigating Change,” still required the board’s official stamp of approval. USD 431 Superintendent Patrick Crowdis presented the fluid document.
“We’re hoping it will become less restrictive over time,” he said. “We believe our staff, students, and parents have done a great job so far.”
In the original document, students and parents were asked to keep and turn in learning logs on a weekly basis. Now, the KSDE has determined one signed “list of assurances” will suffice. Crowdis said a letter is being drafted and will be sent out to parents this week concerning the change.
As one board member, Becky Mooney, moved to accept the plan, another, Sara Tarlton, stated more discussion was needed. That’s when strong opinions concerning remote learning were aired.
Board members want to explore alternative plans, and want to discuss them with Karen Winkleman and see what is possible. Through a parent, Tarlton learned an alternative plan being suggested by KDHE could be adopted, provided the plan is approved by the county health officer. That plan would allow students to continue to come to school even if they’ve been exposed to a student under quarantine, by providing an isolated location for them to attend.
Kelly Urban suggested going one step further, and looking into what it would take to have teachers in the district recognized as essential workers. That way, they could continue working, and then quarantine at home outside of working hours.
Then, Tarlton shared that some teachers had opened up to her about their frustrations over teaching in-person and remotely at the same time. They don’t like splitting their time between the two. Some families may simply be taking advantage of the district’s offer, she said, and it’s making things harder for teachers.
“Kids need to be in school,” she said.
While both Cowan and Roosevelt Elementary Principal Shelby Walker agreed early on there were bumps in the road, they hadn’t heard any complaints from teachers. Joel Mason, the high school principal, had no issues to report. Middle School Principal Pat Reinhardt offered no comments.
Testing was also discussed. Remote learner tests can be given a few ways. Some are available through Google Classroom during that specific class period. Others are taken in-person outside of normal classroom time. Once, when no other option was available, one parent insisted the teacher watch the student via the Zoom app as they took their test. Also, no assurances could be made that a remote tester was unable to gain some sort of advantage over in-person testers.
Still, as Keri Schremmer pointed out, only a small number district students are remote learners currently, and most are complying with requirements. But, Tarlton and Jessica Baze still wondered aloud why the students were being provided an option, even questioning if they were remaining isolated outside of school. One asked if remote students were allowed to attend school sporting events as spectators. The response, there is no rule that says they can’t. Remote students simply can’t participate in sports or activities. The district is not responsible for what they do outside of regular school hours.
“The thought process behind remote learning provides the best answer to ensure students at home can keep up with the rest of the class,”Crowdis stated, in defense of remote learning.
He noted that some parents are truly afraid of what could happen with the virus, and this provides some way for their students to remain engaged with their class. Some students are taking classes remotely for the semester, but some are only remote during a quarantine. This option allows them to move back into in-person classes easily when a quarantine is over.
Urban asked if remote learners could take classes using a virtual platform instead, which would allow teachers to focus on in-person instruction. Crowdis said the KSDE advises against it, and there’ s good reason. Virtual platforms are designed for the student to complete the entire class online. In fact, moving kids onto a virtual platform could result in the district losing numbers. The amount of funding the district receives from some sources depends on the number of students attending school there. This brought the discussion to an end, and the plan was approved.