The Everett Public Schools said if all remains the same with guidance from the state and the data on COVID-19, they would probably open up school with a completely virtual teaching model – albeit much different in look and content from what was rolled out on an emergency basis last spring.
Supt. Priya Tahiliani said they have learned that many parents won’t be comfortable sending their children back to school in September – but may grow more comfortable with the idea as time goes on if the virus continues to be controlled. While changes can happen at any time to set the process back, she said they are meeting parents in that place of uncertainty and taking a phased approach – even as other districts wade into the waters of hybrid in-person plans starting in September.
“At this point, our current plan…we’re talking about is our instruction would be completely virtual,” she said. “What I mean by that is we know we have many families not comfortable sending students back in the fall. This would mean all students are doing the same thing whether they are in the building or not.”
At the same time, teachers aren’t necessarily comfortable returning in the fall as well.
“What I hear from teachers is they would prefer coming back virtual too,” she said. “It’s not going to be the emergency instruction we had, but rigorous and high-quality instruction being created by teachers and we have expectations on grading and bell-to-bell school days and schedules.”
This 1st Quarter situation would work with a combination of students that are working from home and of students that are set up in school buildings at Virtual Learning Centers (VLCs).
Teachers would not be in front of a classroom, and the VLCs would likely be a cohort of students that would be prioritized by need and preference. Teachers would prepare and present lessons online to students at home and at the VLCs using computers and tablets. Students would have a set schedule for their classes just as if they were in a traditional school day. The one difference is the VLCs would have a monitor for every cohort that would not be a teacher, but would be someone qualified to answer questions or help with technology.
Students would also report to the schools on certain days for clubs, or sports or other school activities – whether at-home learners or in the VLCs. All of it would be clearly laid out and there would be no “figuring it out,” she said.
The schools came to this plan because, so far, the parent surveys sent out last week were overwhelmingly uncertain. Some 45 percent of the parents surveyed – and there were a lot of surveys returned – said they were unsure right now about how school should resume. Then there was an even split as to how many were comfortable with sending kids back, and how many were not comfortable sending them back.
At best, it was inconclusive right now, and a main reason for the phased approach.
“It might change with time,” she said. “We like to think it will be black and white, but I think it will be across the spectrum of how families navigate this. I actually think there are all shades of grey we will be working with.”
The plan, though, is not to stay virtual for very long. If things continue to improve, the plan would be to transition in the 2nd Quarter and then in the 3rd Quarter.
“Many districts are doing a week in and a week off in the fall,” she said. “We do plan to do that in Quarter 2, but we are taking a phased approach. Quarter 1 is the VLCs and Quarter 2 is a hybrid balance and Quarter 3 is when hopefully we can pretty much have everyone back in school. With smart spacing, we should be able to fit all students in for five days of instruction.”
One of the key drivers in not starting with a hybrid model of schooling came down to adult work schedules, said Tahiliani. She said many parents weren’t sure how they would be able to go to work, and also have kids at home trying to learn online without supervision.
“This plan also gives us the ability to learn from…other districts,” she said. “There are so many different ways school is being done and it will be important in that 1st Quarter to look at them and build off that.”
The VLCs for the fall are just now being sorted out, and the logistics are still being worked out right now with teachers, parents, students and staff. Tahiliani said they would probably choose those for in-school VLCs through a lens of equity – meaning those that do not have internet or do not have reliable technology would be first in line. Others who prefer to be in person would then be allowed. She said she believes it will probably sort itself out without have to make difficult selections of who come into the building and who stays at home.
The decision has been discussed with a Re-Opening Task Force made up of a diverse group of voices, including school officials, parents and teachers. The first application from Everett Public Schools for the fall plan to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is due July 31.
Fall Sports, Clubs and Band Will Be on Despite Virtual Classrooms
Supt. Priya Tahiliani said this week that, while they are waiting for more specific guidelines from the state, they do expect sports and extra-curricular activities to take place this fall.
That coming despite a modified virtual classroom for Everett right now in the 1st Quarter of the school year.
“We want to do sports and we want to bring clubs together,” she said. “Band practice has already started. The traditional hybrid won’t preclude us from doing anything else.”
She said right now the district is moving forward with the idea that sports will be allowed, but they are waiting for specific plans from the state.
“Whatever the state allows us, we’ll do,” she said.