On Tuesday, the Park City School District presented its return to school plans to the Park City Board of Education, covering many facets of operational and academic protocols. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things will look very different as students return to school in August as families with school-aged children weigh the different schooling options available.
The plans to bring students back to school on Aug. 20 incorporate guidance from public health officials, the Utah Board of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this month, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered a back-to-school mask mandate and along with that, schools across the state have been working on a comprehensive plan to manage the health risks of spreading the coronavirus through schools and communities.
The hygiene regimens and behavioral shifts will include habitual hand-washing and frequent sanitization of surfaces. Superintendent Jill Gildea says the district will use a positive behavior support system to educate students at all grade levels in healthy practices.
Gildea believes the technique works because it teaches students the expectations and the reasons for the directives.
“As teachers return, they will start learning the OSHA guidelines and all of these strategies that will keep us safe as an essential service to our community,” Gildea said. “And then as soon as our teachers master this, obviously, they are able to have lessons ready, have visual prompts in the classroom and around faucets and fountains and be able to, in the beginning of the year, you know, just establish these as some of the new routines and procedures that we need to do to keep one another healthy and safe.”
Under the district’s plans, parents can decide if they are comfortable sending kids back to the traditional schedule or to a virtual schedule. She says 65 to 70 percent of those surveyed in June wanted to be back in the classroom in August. This week, parents will receive an email asking them to choose one of the two alternatives.
“Remote learning is not sitting in front of the screen for seven hours a day because that's not what happens in a regular classroom either,” Gildea said. “You have a little bit of instruction, you go and you do some practice, you check in with a partner, and we can model that sort of structure online as well. The remote option will follow our Park City School District curriculum. You know all of the standards. And it is the same curriculum that's happening in the classroom, so that way after one quarter, if the health conditions change and families would rather return their child to in-person, they will not have missed a beat.”
She says teachers in elementary schools will be assigned to either in-person or online instruction. Secondary school teachers will have more of a split virtual/in-person schedule. The idea, she says, is to implement a set schedule for kids so they know when they can interact with their teachers.
“Secondary teachers; they may have two sections of their courses face-to-face and then they may parallel that with their other two sections online,” Gildea said. “So the other two, online sections would be at the same time that they’re in person would have been if the kids were all returning to school. They just may have some classes that are in-person face-to-face and other times, they’re in their classroom without students in front of them, other than virtually.
Schools have been closed since mid-March and Gildea says more than 100 people from the education community volunteered to build the framework to bring kids back to learning this fall.
“We have a really wonderfully engaged community and the group of educators and staff who volunteered their time, among their work requirements, because we were still in school as we were building all of these. And then we've just been fine-tuning them since school is out.”
The school district is sending an email this week asking parents to identify their preferences for the coming school year.