The Belgrade School Board voted to open schools this fall using a ‘blended option’ that would be a mix of in-class and online learning, but Superintendent Godfrey Saunders said that could change due to a recent report on school openings from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
“Hold the presses on printing the blended model of reopening,” he said. “It may not be that after all.”
It is unclear what the Belgrade School District has in mind. Saunders was in meetings all afternoon Wednesday and couldn’t be reached further for comment before the deadline.
The CDC released a report Friday, one day after Belgrade trustees meet and voted, that said school districts in COVID-19 hotspots should limit potential transmissions by closing and operating online. But at the same time, the report said those districts with lower transmission rates should operate full time.
The AP reported “a CDC statement discusses the ‘importance’ of reopening schools, noting that school-age children are less likely to get sick from the virus and death rates in that age group are far lower than among adults. It says students could be set back in many areas of life if schools remain closed.”
The AP went on to report that federal education officials said “the ‘default’ should be schools fully open this fall.
“In areas where there are hot spots, remote distancing learning might need to be adopted for a certain amount of time, but the research and science continue to suggest that it is safer, healthier and better for students to be in school full time,” said Mitchell Zais, the deputy secretary of education.
The AP also reported the following:
“A CDC document released Thursday details what sorts of mitigation steps schools
should take to minimize the spread of the virus.
“Schools should consider what the level of virus transmission is in the community, and consider stopping on-site operations if officials see substantial, uncontrolled spread, the guidance says. In addition to strategies to limit the spread of the virus _ such as social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands and practicing proper hygiene _ schools may also consider cohorting, or keeping small groups of students together throughout the day, and staggering when students arrive at school to limit the number of people who interact with each other.
“Schools should also consider taking steps to limit the virus’s spread during extracurricular and co-curricular activities, which may include limiting or canceling activities in some cases.
“(CDC Director Robert) Redfield said it was important to reopen schools ‘with the understanding that COVID is still here.’
“Schools should develop plans for what to do when a staff member or student gets sick, such as whether and how long to close the school in the case of an outbreak. There should also be plans for how long students and staff who test positive for the virus, or have been in close contact with someone who has, need to self-isolate or quarantine.
“Redfield said the “knee-jerk” answer to close a school when there’s a single case there isn’t the best approach.
“‘(We) gave guidance in terms of how to begin to respond when a student, for example, develops symptoms or when a student is confirmed to be COVID-positive, what is the appropriate response within that classroom, within that school,’ he said.”
On Thursday of last week, the Belgrade School Board meet and the Belgrade News published the following story online on Friday.
School schedules this fall will be a mix of in-class and online learning that education officials hope will reduce coronavirus transmissions, comply with health requirements and keep students engaged.
The Belgrade School Board voted 5-2 to install Superintendent Godfrey Saunders’ recommendation of a “blended option” Thursday night. Trustees Holly Murray and Nicole Blount voted against the recommendation.
Saunders will present the details of the blended option to the public and the board at its next meeting in August. Board Chair Mary Ellen Fitzgerald told trustees the Thursday vote was merely to determine how the schools will operate this fall – online, blended, or complete opening.
Administrators and most trustees said the blended option gives schools the most flexibility. If transmissions decline, the district could consider moving to full-time instruction, but, at the same time, if the situation worsens, the school could move to online learning. Blending the two choices at this time would allow educators to move quickly either way, Fitzgerald said.
“This gives you a direction in which to go,” she said. “It will relieve anxiety with teachers and give parents some definite direction.”
A questionnaire returned by 2,250 parents representing a cross-section of students in every grade had an 80.7% average choosing a partially open policy compared to 73.46% wanting full-time instruction, Curriculum Director Mark Halgren told trustees. Broken down, parents typifying every grade favored partial opening.
Heading back to a normal school year is the best and easiest way to educate students, Saunders said, but it can’t be done at this point.
“To be honest, there is no way we can adhere to most of the guidelines for safety,” he told the board. “Going back full-time is the simplest thing to do, but I also know it is the riskiest thing to do,” he said.
“Going back full-time is the best option, but I really think we have to consider the safety of our students and staff,” she said.