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What will school be like this fall amid pandemic? Oswego School District officials preparing plans

Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist.
Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist.

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Oswego School District 308 administrators are moving forward with planning for the upcoming school year amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

"We thought it was important to have this conversation today and we'd like to share where we're at with planning," Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin told the Board of Education at a June 8 meeting. "It's also important for people and the community to know that these conversations have begun and much work will be done over June and July as we prepare multiple scenarios for the 20-21 school year."

As of June 8, Sparlin said the district had not received guidance from the state on what the coming school year will look like other than that the district should be working on "multiple plans" for the fall semester.

Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Faith Dahlquist presented three beginning proposals to the board during the virtual meeting.

The first scenario, which would allow for face-to-face instruction with some new safety measures, is not fully defined. In the interim, Dahlquist said, the district has ordered masks for staff members, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

According to the presentation, the first scenario would need to account for additional time for students and staff to wash their hands frequently, as well as possible temperature checks and procedures for students and staff when they don't feel well, as well as masks and face coverings for students.

The second scenario includes some face-to-face learning and increased social distancing in the event that schools are only permitted to have small groups of students gather. This would mean that only a limited amount of students could be in a classroom or on a school bus.

Guidelines for the second scenario are still under development at the state level, but Dahlquist said current options being considered include splitting elementary school classrooms in half and only having students attend a half-day, or having classrooms be split into two and having one week in attendance and one week off, but at half the class size.

In the absence of state guidance, the district is working to enhance the online learning methods employed in the final months of the 2019-2020 school year, regardless of whether students are in the classroom or not.

When guidance is provided by the state, the district has created committees to determine the best way to enact each strategy, consisting of union members, building and district administrators and maintenance staff.

The third scenario, Dahlquist said, would improve the online learning program "in case there is a need for it later in the school year," such as if schools need to shut down again.

"Even if we don't start the school year with that online learning piece, there is a good chance or possibility that we would go into that scenario again," Dahlquist said. "Regardless of how we start the school year we really wanted to make online learning or Remote Learning 2.0 better than it was in the spring."

Again, the district is waiting for guidance from the state, but in the interim, it has sought feedback from parents, students and staff on the online learning methods used during the shutdown.

"Some of the things that worked well, we really want to do better," she said, including prerecorded lessons where a teacher makes a video of the lesson and distributes it to students to be available at any time.

The district would also improve or increase live interaction at the elementary level, she said, for which teachers could also receive more training. Students with disabilities and their families also expressed a need for more live interaction and work with related providers.

Dahlquist said the district is also weighing how to get textbooks into the hands of students,or paper copies to families, a method that could be done through a drive-through.

A committee will be created by the end of this month, Dahlquist said, consisting of parents, students, staff and administrators, to review and revise schedule options and priorities. The delay in creating the committee, Dahlquist said, comes from a desire to receive guidance from the state on what the coming school year will look like.

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