After much discussion, the Massac Unit 1 school board voted Monday night to begin Phase I of the normal school transition plan.
Beginning Monday, Oct. 5, in-person learning will transition from two days a week to four days a week for all blended-learning students.
Blended-learning students will attend in-person Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. All safety protocols will remain in effect, including daily health screenings; face coverings required at all times; hand hygiene; the no visitor policy and early student dismissal. Student lunches will continue to be sent home with students.
Full-remote learning remains an option.
Phase I review checkpoints will be established approximately every two weeks to analyze implementation results and determine necessary adjustments.
About a dozen people — teachers and parents — attended the Sept. 28 meeting held in the Massac County High School library.
“The parents there were interested in getting our kids back in school, just like all of our board members,” said Superintendent Jason Hayes.
Thorough Monday’s vote, “We’ve expanded in-person learning, but not to the extent some wanted,” he said.
Combining the A/B schedule of in-person learners won’t be without its hiccups. Teachers are spending this week getting those students “on the same page so they’re ready to come together on Monday,” Hayes said.
His biggest concern is spacing. Due to class sizes — in student numbers and building layout — in many cases, maintaining 6-feet is not an option, which is one reason for early dismissal.
“There will not be social distancing at all times; it will not be possible at all times. We’ll still do what we can, but there will be classrooms where we cannot social distance,” Hayes emphasized. “We are still going to wear masks. We have to really watch how we handle this moving forward. We still have some roadblocks.”
Phase I will begin for an initial two-week trial Oct. 5-16, which includes a five-day mini-fall break Oct. 8-12 — Thursday is parent/teacher conference; Friday is no school; and Monday, Oct. 12, is the Columbus Day holiday. Students return Tuesday, Oct. 13, for another three days as Friday is still reserved for remote learners.
“That will give us time to work out the kinks,” said Hayes, who plans to meet weekly with school administration to review and monitor the situation. “If we continue to work on social distancing as we can, we may be able to pull this thing off for a little while. But if we’re not careful, this could be a super exposure situation.”
Hayes noted the 35-member transition team looked at several factors during its Sept. 25 meeting in making a recommendation to the school board. A survey of parents early that week showed the majority of parents are ready for students to return to school. Hayes commended the parental response to the poll, which generated 1064 responses representing the equivalent of 1500 Unit 1 students — that’s an 80% response the expected parent population rate. Of those responding, 30% “are still very, very concerned about COVID. About 30% of our kids are on full-remote overall. Most of those have special medical situations.”
But most concerning are other numbers. At Monday’s meeting, the board looked at F ratios and%s of F at mid-terms compared to last year — they’ve increased 200 to 400%.
“There are a lot of kids not making the normal achievement levels. It’s not the students’ fault, the teachers’ fault, the parents’ fault; it’s just the schedule that we’re trying to make work isn’t working,” Hayes said. “If you’re going to fail 30 to 40% of your students, what’s the point? Failing means they’re not learning the material. We’re not able to teach it. We’ve got to try to do something different.
“I’m sure there are people frustrated thinking the teachers haven’t done enough. But I’ve seen with my own eyes — teachers are working harder than they ever have before. This current schedule and setup doesn’t lend itself to learning,” he continued. “I think some of them will be relieved if we can get some kids in front of them, even if it’s for a shorter amount of time. Kids being in front of teachers is the one thing we took away from them in this schedule. I really think that’s a critical attribute in this learning process.”