OSKALOOSA — Last week, the Oskaloosa Community School District announced their Return to Learn plan for the 2020-21 academic year.
All districts are required by the Iowa Department of Education to develop a continuous virtual learning program to prepare for another shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadline for school districts is Wednesday, July 1.
The plan includes guidelines for communication; infrastructure; academic standards and instruction; health and safety; social, emotional and behavioral health; and equity for on-site, off-site and hybrid learning.
According to a draft released by Superintendent Paula Wright, the overarching goals of the plan are to keep everyone safe, offer a remedy for student learning deficits, provide on-site learning for students who wish to do so and maintain fiscal discipline.
“While our preferred/default model of instruction is an in-person educational environment, OCSD anticipates continued public health restrictions when school resumes in the fall,” reads the plan.
The plan also recognizes some families may prefer an online learning environment for their student(s), or that a COVID-19 surge could require the district to go back to off-site, online learning. The district has outlined guidelines for on-site, off-site and hybrid models.
The district’s external communication plan includes guidelines for emergency (non-weather and weather), public relations, parent safety (priority, non-emergent), event promotion, special announcements, reminder and internal staff messages. Depending on each category, communication will be posted on the district’s website, Facebook, Infinite Campus Messenger, Iowa School Alerts or the pubic mobile app.
“Considering the changing dynamics of the 2020-21 school year and the district’s intention to potentially deliver alternative learning modes simultaneously, we anticipate an increased complexity in our communications efforts,” reads the plan. “These complexities will also be triggered by potential fluctuations in status of schools (open or closed in response to virus outbreaks), changing health advisories, operational modifications, increased needs to generate additional resources, national or local government actions and multi-layered crisis situations.”
Infrastructure includes school year/calendar changes, school registration, food and nutrition services and technology.
The district plans to begin on-site, face-to-face learning Monday, Aug. 24. If an on-site model isn’t possible by August, public health guidelines during this time will determine whether school will begin online or in a hybrid learning environment.
Up-to-date demographic information is vital for communication, and the district asks parents to update their information (phone numbers, email addresses) when needed. Student attendance is required for all three models, and the district will report absences due to COVID-19 symptoms or quarantine.
The district will also continue to provide meals to students for all three models. In this case, the meal service program could be a combination of in-school serving or a “grab-& -go” program similar to what was provided this spring.
The district’s IT department will ensure all students have access to a working device, especially for off-site learning.
For required online learning in an off-site or hybrid learning situation, teachers will provide educational materials and resources through Schoology, Google Classroom and/or Seesaw. Students will be able to access these materials at any time, and teachers can also provide video conferencing through these three platforms.
“Regardless of the format the instruction is delivered, teachers will assess initial student learning to determine areas of strength and areas that need improvement,” reads the plan. “This will be done using a variety of assessment tools such as FAST screener tests for math and reading in grades K through 8, curriculum provided assessments, teacher-created pre-tests and formative tools, and date collected in the spring of 2020 about standard proficiency.”
This information will be used to create lessons, activities and other forms of learning to move students forward and fill learning gaps. Information about student gaps in learning, how these gaps are being addressed and student progress will be shared with families on a regular basis.
Health and safety
The district will follow social distancing guidelines set by the Iowa Department of Public Health and the CDC, avoiding mass gatherings such as assemblies, field trips and other activities.
Screenings will be conducted upon entering any district building. Students, staff and visitors will have their temperature taken and will be asked symptom screening questions. The same staff members will conduct screenings with the same group of students to increase efficiency and enable staff to know if their students are showing signs and symptoms of illness. Staff will be trained by district nurses on how to screen students, and parents are encouraged to check temperatures before school.
PPE is encouraged by the district, but students and staff will be responsible for their own masks or face shields, including their daily cleaning. Gloves will be required for all food and nutrition staff, and other staff members will be required to wear them when cleaning or disinfecting.
PPE, including back-ups to personal masks, hand sanitizer, thermometers and gloves will be provided to schools on a continual basis throughout the year. Other PPE such as Plexiglas and sneeze guards will be provided for students and staff who are high risk, and additional signage on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be posted throughout district buildings. Scheduled times and procedures for hand hygiene will be established, and all students and staff are required to stay home if they present signs and symptoms of the virus.
Symptomatic staff and students will be quarantined to a designated isolation room until they can safely leave the building. The district will coordinate with Mahaska County Public Health regarding suspected or confirmed cases.
Students and staff will be limited to sharing supplies, such as utensils, electronic devices, books and learning aids. All classroom materials will be sanitized on a regular basis. Students are also responsible for bringing their own water bottles to school, as all water fountains will be off limits. Water bottles will be refilled in classrooms or other designated areas.
Transportation to and from school will be provided for students who qualify. Face masks are highly encouraged for students riding the bus.
Social, emotional and behavioral health
Social, emotional and behavioral health services will be accessible to students and staff for all three models, including school counselors, success coaches and a school-based social worker. Trauma-informed classroom management training will also be provided for staff.
“School climate and culture will look different in an online or hybrid learning environment,” reads the plan. “The same expectations that exist for students at school (e.g. respectful, responsible, ready to learn) will be expected in an online setting as well. There may be a need to provide more support to students who have experienced, or are experiencing trauma, based on certain life circumstances.”
One of the biggest challenges for off-site and hybrid learning is maintaining services that meet the needs of all students equitably.
Special education, at-risk, English learners, and gifted and talented students will have access to education based on their individual needs for all three models. The district will continue to work with families to identify their educational needs.
“Collaboration with families has always been an integral part of the special education process and continues to be essential during this time,” reads the plan. “To address the unique needs of individual students, special education teachers will continue to work with families to identify the most essential services for each student that can be provided by Hybrid, Face-to-Face, and Required Online Learning environments.”
No matter which model the district will implement during the upcoming school year, students, staff and families are encouraged to continue to stay informed, practice health and safety guidelines, establish a learning routine and prepare a daily schedule.
Parents are encouraged to submit a Return-to-Learn comment form if they have any thoughts or questions regarding the district’s plan.