{child_kicker}WATERLOO SCHOOL BOARD{/child_kicker}

Parents’ choice: district to reopen with simultaneous in-person and

virtual instruction

{child_byline}By Amber Gerber

agerber@hngnews.com

{/child_byline}

Families have many decisions to make when it comes to going back to school – what type of backpack to purchase, how their child will travel to and from the building, will their student get lunch from the school or bring it from home, and what activities should the child participate in.

Waterloo School District families now have a major decision as registration gets underway– to have their student attend school in person or virtually.

The Waterloo School Board voted Monday night for a reopening plan that would allow families determine if they want their student to physically be in the school buildings four days per week or continue with virtual learning.

Three options for reopening the school were offered to the board – simultaneous instruction five days per week, simultaneous instruction four days a week, and all virtual instruction. The simultaneous instruction means students who attend virtually will be able to watch their teacher in real time as the class will be streamed.

“It’s a tough decision for you tonight,” said Superintendent Brian Henning. “There’s not a lot of precedence for this.”

The four-day a week plan was approved 5-2 with board members Kate Lewandowski and Jim Setz voting in opposition. The pair leaned more toward starting the 2020-2021 school year virtually. Lewandowski said while she knows students may struggle by not being in the school buildings, she would have liked to see the district be all-virtual the first quarter.

Setz was concerned of the impact on families, especially if the district needs to suspend in-person instruction due to a coronavirus outbreak and then decides to re-open after the chance to transmission has diminished.

“It’s important to know we can start with one plan and change throughout the year,” Henning said.

When registration for the 2020-2021 school year opens this week, families will be asked to indicate their preference as to whether their children will attend in person or virtually. Henning said the answers will not be locked in stone but the district is looking for a firm commitment one way or another. This information will allow the district to make plans for social distancing and other precautionary measures.

The superintendent explained in other districts, surveys found 25-30% of families indicated their students would attend virtually but when it came time for registration, 40-50% children enrolled for online instruction. Henning expects Waterloo to have similar figures.

Board Vice President Nancy Thompson asked if there would be some fluidity for students – particularly high schoolers – who may decide to attend some classes in person and others virtually.

Henning said while the district wants students to come in as much as possible, there will be some options.

Later in the meeting, the board approved open campus for all high school students. This would allow students to decide whether to attend certain classes virtually and others in person. Students would also be allowed to leave campus for lunch and study hall. Parents would need to give their teenagers permission to take part in the open campus.

High school principal Brad Donner said allowing this would minimize the number of students at the school at one time.

The superintendent explained the four-day-a-week option was driven by teachers who wanted to have a day for office hours when remote learners could stop by the classroom to meet with staff. He mentioned a side benefit of taking off the middle of the week would allow custodial staff to do more of a deep cleaning. As of the meeting, a cleaning plan had not been created; Henning said the custodial staff was waiting to find out if there would be in-person instruction.

“Cleaning will look a lot different than in the past,” he said.

Lewandowski asked if teachers did not feel comfortable offering instruction in person, if they would be able to teach virtually. Henning said the board could make that decision. Later in the meeting, the board voted to allow staff to take a leave of absence if they do not feel it is safe enough to return to in-person instruction. The staff member would receive no compensation or benefits, but their position would be held for them. A long-term substitute would be hired for the interim.

Despite more than 80 people signed in to the meeting either by phone or online, there was limited public discussion, most related to wearing masks.

Henning said every student and staff member will need to wear masks the majority of time they are in the building. There will be times when pupils will be allowed to unmask such as lunch and recess and possibly gym depending on the activity. Henning said there would be considerations for children with medical or educational needs who are unable to wear a mask while attending class in person.

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