All students in the Albany County School District No. 1 will be able to attend class five days a week, including at the middle and high school levels, the district announced Monday in an update to its reopening plan.
Before, only elementary students would have attended school five days per week. Middle and high school students were expected to attend two or three days per week.
The district intended to revise the reopening plan based upon community feedback and the evolving expert guidance surrounding the coronavirus, said Jubal Yennie, district superintendent. The goal had always been to update the reopening plan at least every two weeks, he said.
“In Covid-19, two weeks seems like a lifetime,” Yennie said. “We will lead with health and safety.”
Although they will be in the school buildings each weekday, middle and high school students will still see some changes this year compared to normal.
They will attend each of their classes on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. But they will only attend half of their classes on Tuesdays, with longer block scheduling, and they will attend the other half of classes on Wednesdays.
When they are in school, students at all levels will be required to wear masks or other face coverings when they cannot appropriately social distance, Yennie said. That distance will be set at six feet, and students will be allowed to take their masks off in class if they are six feet away from other people.
The updated plan included more details about classroom-based virtual instruction — the choice that students will have to take courses without going into the school building. This is designed for students who might put themselves or a family member in danger if they were to attend school.
Under this virtual option, a teacher will make contact with the students at least once per week, over Zoom, telephone or a range of other communication methods. These teachers might arrange class sessions on Zoom for a group of students who choose the virtual option.
Students will be required to log in at least once per day on Canvas, a digital learning platform, where they will complete their assignments.
If students choose to enroll in the virtual option, they will be required to stay in it for at least the entire first semester, the updated reopening plan says. Parents will be required to attend an in-person or virtual informational meeting for their children to participate.
The district also detailed the procedures that will be followed on school buses. All students and staff will be required to wear masks on the bus, and capacity will be set to one-third of the typical number. So buses that are designed for 36 passengers will hold 12 at most, or buses designed for 72 will hold 24 passengers.
Buses will have hand sanitizer for passengers to use “to the greatest extent possible,” the revised plan says. Students will have to follow assigned seating on the bus, to facilitate contact tracing in case someone develops the coronavirus.
The additions and revisions to the reopening plan come after the district received comments from the public and school board members at the board meeting last Wednesday.
Matthew Stannard, a Laramie resident with three children in middle and high school, told board members that he thought the original reopening plan did not go far enough to protect students and teachers.
Students should have to wear a mask at all times while in schools, he said. He said the district did not consider a hybrid or virtual model enough for the fall semester because reopening schools is the popular choice.
“We could have developed a hybrid system,” Stannard told the board. “I don’t think it was a scientific conclusion. It was a political conclusion.”
Janice Marshall, chair of the school board, said that it would be good for students to reopen schools, due to the struggles that people have faced with virtual education.
“Online education fails in so many ways,” Marshall said. She thanked district staff and teachers for all of their work during the spring to salvage the semester, but noted that the situation was exceptional.
Beth Bear, another school board member, raised concerns about the proposed alternating days that middle and high school students would be in classrooms. Parents could feel uncomfortable leaving middle school-aged children alone at home for entire school days, she said.
The original plan had proposed that half of students come to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other half would come on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and anyone who was falling behind would be able to attend on Fridays.
Whatever the final plan is, it will require the participation of the community to have any chance to work, Bear said.
“This isn’t going to work if we don’t get on board,” Bear said.
The school board will have a special meeting at noon on July 30 to approve the reopening plan, which must be sent to the state Department of Education by August 3.
The district plans to release another version of the reopening plan by next Monday, which will be considered by the board, Yennie said.