School year will start with remote learning model

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The emergence of a novel coronavirus forced the South-Western City Schools District to halt face-to-face instruction near the end of the 2019-20 school year. Now, its continued presence is altering plans to bring it back for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

On July 28, district officials posted on its website that the new school year, which starts on Aug. 27, would begin in a 100 percent remote learning format. That announcement came just two weeks after officials unveiled a reopening draft plan that included some in-person instruction.

What prompted the abandonment of the initial reopening draft plan, said Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise, was up-to-date information shared by state and local health departments regarding COVID-19 positivity rates, case counts and trend lines.

“It was their recommendation that, based on these factors, it was not conducive to reopen schools in a hybrid or blended format at this time,” he said.

Wise added that while it was difficult to hear that news and then relay it back to the community, it was not difficult to follow their recommendation.

“I want to see students and staff back in the building as much as anyone because I do feel that face-to-face instruction is the most superior learning model,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to do what is best to keep our students, our staff and our community safe.”

South-Western was just one of a host of districts that announced a switch to a 100 percent remote learning format that week. Unlike a number of them, however, the district did not commit to a remote learning timeline.

“As of right now, we do not have a timeline for when we will stay in the 100 percent remote learning model,” Wise said. “Data may change that will make it possible for us to start implementing that blended learning format sooner rather than later.

“But all of that depends on the most recent information and recommendations from our health professionals and the commitment by the community to follow their advice by continuing to wear facial coverings, practice good hygiene and hand washing, maintaining six feet of physical distance from others and staying home as much as possible.”

The news of the adjustment to a 100 percent remote learning model was met with a mixed reaction online. While a majority of those commenting on social media seemed to be appreciative of the change, some expressed displeasure with the remote learning format.

Wise said he is aware of the issues with its implementation last March but is confident the remote learning format will work better for students this upcoming school year.

“It is not going to be like it was in the spring,” he said.

Sandra Nekoloff, the district’s director of communications, said in an email that in order to better the experience, they were “working with our teachers association in hopes that we can include more synchronous activities,” coordinating “the regularity of staff contact times”, and refining “the format of the learning information system…to provide an improved learning experience for our students.”

If and when the district allows in-person instruction, it will be conducted in a way to reduce the amount of students within a building. According to the blended learning model plans unveiled on July 13, an algorithm used by the Infinite Campus will split the student bodies at each school into two separate groups. One group of students will attend in-person on two consecutive days, while the other group will attend on consecutive days later that week. Each group will learn remotely for three days while not receiving in-person instruction. On the day in between the in-person instruction groups, the buildings will receive a deep cleaning.

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