District proposes hybrid model to start school year

Courtesy image: This screenshot from Monday’s Brookings School Board meeting video shows Superintendent Klint Willert presenting a proposal for the start of the 2020-2021 school year in Brookings, with local healthcare providers and community members looking on. The school board plans to vote on the proposal on July 30.

Draft proposal would have students in school two days a week, working at home other days; masks required in plan

BROOKINGS – Brookings School District Superintendent Klint Willert presented a draft plan Monday that calls for a hybrid learning model – combining remote and in-person learning – and mandates masks and social distancing for the start of the upcoming school year. 

The Brookings School Board took no action on the recommended plan Monday night because the district wants to field any questions, concerns and ideas from the public first. The board plans to take formal action on the matter July 30. The superintendent also announced that school will begin on Aug. 31.

The draft plan allows for the potential to have either an entirely in-person or an entirely remote-learning model based on the level of active COVID-19 cases in the community.

Willert worked through a majority of the 60-page dossier called the “Bobcat Tracks Plan” for bringing students back to class. 

There are four phases with different specifications for how the district plans on educating students, based on the number of cases in Brookings County. Phase I implements an entirely face-to-face method of education based on the schools and community having no active COVID-19 cases for 14 days. Phase IV is an entirely remote-learning method based on Brookings having several active cases of the virus including an outbreak in the school system.

“We are not in Phase I, we are not in Phase IV. We are in Phase II and III,” Willert said.

As of today, according to the plan, the district would implement a hybrid learning model due to Brookings having active cases of COVID-19. 

In the proposal, students would have alternating schedules in between school cleaning days. Students would actively be washing hands, spending as little time in the hallways as possible, and having their temperature taken in and out of school. On the days they aren’t in the school buildings, they would do work on their own and use web-based tools.

Willert said the district plans on having an entirely online-learning option for students and staff who cannot or do not feel comfortable coming into the school buildings but want to remain Bobcats.

“We would have half of our students attend school on Monday and Tuesday, the same cohort both days. We would take Wednesday off, and then we would have Thursday and Friday as the second cohort of students,” Willert explained. “Wednesday would be utilized as a cleaning and disinfecting day. We would have our same process and procedure on Friday evening and Saturday so that same level and expectation of disinfecting and cleaning is in place for the students on Monday and Tuesday that are in place for the students attending school on Thursday and Friday.

“On the days that the student and family that are not in school … if my child were in school, Thursday and Friday they would attend and there would still be learning outcomes established, projected and expected on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with those things revisited Thursday and Friday in direct instruction,” Willert said.

When students would attend classes in-person is based on last names.

The superintendent said the district’s 603 students with individual education plans for special needs-based learning will have specific practices and methods that will be different from the rest of the students. 

Sanctioned sporting events will continue as planned, but band and choir – as they are not sanctioned functions – have yet to be determined on how and when they will be done. Willert said the district’s goal is to have both programs, but the details are still being worked out.

Masks will be required to be worn by all students, staff and faculty upon entering schools. 

Willert said the district is taking recommendations from several local, state and federal resources such as the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, South Dakota Department of Health and various local health systems and stakeholders. If there are medical issues pertaining to a student who cannot wear a mask for those reasons – not simply because the student or their parents do not like it, Willert said – accommodations can be made and worked out with the student and their parents. Masks would be provided to those who need them.

Parents and visitors – excluding those involved in educational services – will not be allowed into the schools. Meetings involving non-primary school users will be held virtually. 

Outside organizations wanting to use any of the district’s facilities and properties must agree to a facility use agreement where the outside organization submits to COVID-19 precautionary measures set by the district.

“We are going to call in our plan upon our parents to be partners. We are asking our parents to bear the burden and responsibility to conduct temperature checks daily for their students and understand that if a child is presenting a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, without medication, they should not be present in school,” Willert said. “We also recognize that if students or staff have known exposures to COVID or have COVID symptoms, we will follow … the appropriate recommendations for quarantine and for isolation.”

Willert said the district will work closely with the Brookings Health System to figure out testing implementations for when or if there are students who are infected. He said it will not be easy, and staff, faculty and parents will have to do their best on contact tracing to identify those who have come into contact with potential COVID-19 infections.

Students who are “unable to attend school due to health limitations” will have online access to their classes, according to page 6 of the Bobcat Tracks Plan.

Willert also said the district is hiring a social worker, so any issues of emotional and social needs that arise within the schools can be handled by a professional.

“Things will never be the same. We know this is creating a significant social and economic disruption, and it is challenging the long-held traditions not only in places of work but certainly places of school. From grading to grade levels and time in school, we understand that the long-held view of school is certainly changing,” Willert said.

Bus transportation is still being considered due to needs for socially distancing student passengers, and bus drivers have voiced concerns for their own safety. 

For more information, view the Bobcat Tracks Plan online at https://schoolboard.brookings.k12.sd.us/Attachments/27e58cd8-9a2c-4f14-a1df-c1273e60f427.pdf, or watch the Monday school board meeting on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d7xAPhPp6Q.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]

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