NEWARK – Education officials reviewed plans for a return to school with the Worcester County Board of Education this week.
After unveiling the “Responsible Return” model earlier this summer, Superintendent Lou Taylor provided the school board with an update on plans for students to return to school at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Much of it is still the same but much has changed,” Taylor said. “It’s very important the board has the information related to this as we begin the school year in September.”
Taylor said the plan, which had to be submitted to the state last week, had been condensed from an original five areas of focus to three areas — instructional program, operations and safety and communication. The school system has a four-stage instructional program. The school year will begin in stage one, distance learning, but officials hope to enter stage two, which would bring small groups of students into schools, on Sept. 28. Stage three would have all students in school but on an alternating week model, while stage four would be face-to-face learning.
Dee Shorts, chief academic officer for prekindergarten through eighth grade, said that when the school system entered stage two students with academic, social-emotional, connectivity or attendance concerns would be able to return to school buildings.
“The principals are looking at a variety of indicators to determine which students to bring back,” she said.
She added that attendance and grading policies would be in place for all students during distance learning, which will start on Sept. 8. She said half-day students, such as those in prekindergarten, could expect to have two hours of attendance a day during distance learning. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will have fours hours a day while older students will have six hours of learning a day.
As far as operations and safety, officials told the school board Tuesday the updated “Responsible Return” model more accurately defined the processes in place regarding water fountains (which will be closed) and procedures for nurse’s stations (which will include an isolation area).
Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations and special programs, said stakeholder input had been a key part of developing the return model. She said the transportation survey had received 2,924 responses and had revealed that 62.9% of families were comfortable with school bus transportation. There were 1,049 responses to the continuity of learning survey regarding online learning in the spring. More than 64% of respondents reported favorably about their child’s overall experience.
Sterrs said the full community survey regarding the return model had received 3,171 responses and showed that 68.2% of stakeholders were “neutral,” “satisfied,” or “extremely satisfied” with the return model.
“With the changes we’ve made I assume that number would be much higher now,” she said.
Taylor told the board the return model would be reviewed daily as the school year began.
“This is a living document,” he said.
In his welcome letter to family on the return plan, Taylor hit a similar note, writing, “I want to stress to you that this model is a living document, as we recognize the need to be flexible and agile, shifting our approach as conditions change. We ask for your continued patience and understanding as we try to make the best decisions possible during these seemingly impossible circumstances.”
To see the whole plan, visit the school system’s website, www.worcesterk12.org.