The task force in charge of deciding how Rapid City Area Schools will go back to school in the fall is leaning towards a “hybrid normal start” option, with school beginning sometime after Labor Day.
The hybrid normal start would include a remote start option for families who don’t wish to have their children present in school buildings yet for reasons like health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
RCAS Superintendent Lori Simon updated the school board of the task force’s current leanings during a special meeting Monday night. She said the group wants to aim for after Labor Day “so we have some upfront time to train our staff and allow them adequate planning time depending on the scenario we choose.”
Staff training and preparedness was one of the largest obstacles when the district switched to remote learning abruptly in mid-March, said John Johnson, coordinator of research for RCAS. A delayed start could give teachers more time to create lesson plans for online learning.
“Imagine you wake up one morning and all of a sudden you realize you have to come up with a whole new teaching strategy,” he said. “A lot of teachers had no experience” with teaching classes online or via Zoom.
Johnson gave a report from teachers about their experience teaching in the pandemic and said many had “inconsistent and disorganized” communication with parents. Another problem was the inaccessibility of technology and WiFi for students.
Johnson said an estimated 10% to 35% of students did not participate in any learning activities, leading to concerns that students “fell through the cracks.”
The hybrid normal start with a remote learning option is ranked the best option among a work group determining the best learning practice for elementary students, Simon said.
The secondary work group for middle and high schools favored the normal start, but their second choice was the hybrid normal start with a remote learning option, Simon said.
Simon said most districts across the state are looking at a hybrid start with a remote learning option.
“They really believe the remote option is necessary because we know that for personal reasons, for health reasons some parents are just not going to be ready for their kids to go back to school,” Simon said. “None of us can afford to lose a significant amount of enrollment, so we really need to offer that remote learning option, but a much-improved option.”
Simon said there are a multitude of considerations going into the district’s decision, including: personnel matters, need for additional staff, substitute teachers, availability of personal protective equipment, staff training, new rituals and routines for students, family communication, student learning gaps and considerations for special education students.
Safety protocols and considerations for the district also include: busing, arrival and dismissal, hallway and cafeteria patterns, recess, passing periods, special classes like band and orchestra, a nurse area, cleaning and screening procedures.
Simon said the district would likely require all staff and teachers to wear masks and/or face shields and highly recommend students consider wearing masks at school. Yet, she said the availability of PPE is still scant, even for health care systems.
Next steps for the district include finishing the distribution of staff and family surveys and having the work groups submit final reports to the superintendent on June 29. The final recommendation about how RCAS will open will be presented to the school board in July.
“We think that there needs to be as normal a start as possible,” Simon said.
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