Changes to student learning models will no longer be implemented districtwide at Norfolk Public Schools but instead by building depending on COVID-19 risk.
During its Monday meeting, the NPS board of education approved the revised COVID-19 Return to School Plan, which was under re-evaluation this past month after several parents and teachers expressed concerns over hybrid learning, which is included in the orange level scenario.
NPS administration will consult with the Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department (ELVPHD) to manage building changes. The decision for a school building to transition to an orange or red level scenario will be made based upon several factors.
While the green and yellow scenarios of the plan will remain the same, the orange and red risk level scenarios will change depending on COVID-19 risk level in each school building.
During the orange level, safety precautions are enhanced even further. The district will be able to implement hybrid learning and restrict the number of students in a building at any given time to increase social distancing while still providing some in-person instruction.
“We see this as a last-ditch effort,” said Bill Robinson, associate superintendent. “We want to keep kids in school and in-person.”
But a school can go directly from a yellow scenario to a red level scenario — which would be remote learning — if the COVID-19 risk is high enough.
The decision to switch a school to the orange or red level scenario is made by Superintendent Jami Jo Thompson and ELVPHD and is based on several criteria, including the COVID-19 positivity rate.
If the positivity rate in a school hits 2% to 3% or the total student population absenteeism (for all illnesses) reaches 10% to 15%, administrators will start the discussion to implement the orange level scenario.
If any school hits this rate, administrators also will consider other factors before implementing the orange level scenario: the type of spread; the ability to social distance or cohort; the ability to fill staffing positions; and other special circumstances.
Online public dashboard
NPS is going to evaluate the positivity rate by building and district-wide in one- and three-week intervals.
The district also is adding an online public dashboard to track COVID-19 cases and positivity rates by buildings.
While ELVPHD’s risk dial has Madison County at the orange risk level, NPS is currently in the precaution level of yellow in the revised plan, according to a media release. Thompson said she hopes to update the dashboard on Wednesdays and implement a new scenario, if needed, on a Monday to give parents time to prepare. But she said this might not be possible if a building has to close immediately.
“I’m extremely pleased with that dashboard, the information is very valuable not only to staff and kids, but the community can see what’s happening and see a kind of idea how the board of education is going to react,” said Bob Waite, board member. “I’m pleased it (will be) available on the website for all to see and especially happy that ELVPHD can break that information down to a building level number.”
The district’s COVID-19 return to school committee of teachers, parents administrators and staff reviewed the hybrid model by consulting ELVPHD, using official health guidelines and distributing parent and staff surveys for feedback.
Administrators also contacted 15 other schools to discuss how hybrid and remote learning affected various districts, said Erik Wilson, director of student services and safety.
Parents, staff surveyed
In the surveys, 1,909 parents and 394 staff members responded — 60% of them were teachers, said Kimberly Erickson, president of the Norfolk City Education Association.
While 69% of staff reported they are comfortable with the current hybrid plan, only 38% of parents said they were comfortable.
About 49% of elementary parents said hybrid learning would cause significant hardships for their families. Out of the 744 responding parents, 603 said child care would be an issue if hybrid learning were implemented.
Thompson said 80% of parents and 84% of staff are comfortable with the district using actual school data to make decisions, compared with 38% of parents and 69% of staff who were comfortable using the ELVPHD COVID-19 risk dial.
Finally, 62% of parents said they thought NPS should provide a remote learning option for families who were uncomfortable sending their children to school, but only 19% said they would utilize the option if it were available.
“The committee recognizes a lot of parents (believe) a remote learning option should be provided,” said Beth Nelson, director of teaching and learning. “However, our conversations with other schools who are providing this option say it's extremely difficult on staff, student engagement is low and the overall quality is suspect.”
Administrators created a subcommittee to investigate whether remote learning should be developed and implemented, Nelson said.
The committee will be presenting a recommendation for the board near the end of the year, she said. This would make any changes easier for families to transition to between semesters.
Kathy Steffes, an NPS parent of two, said she’s been advocating for a remote learning option since the beginning of the school year.
Because her family has autoimmune health issues, she started a petition for the board to consider remote learning, but Steffes said she also wants the option for other parents.
“This is endangering everybody’s lives, especially people who are high-risk,” she said. “It’s thought of as a joke, but my uncle died three days ago from COVID. My daughter’s father got COVID; my cousin is relearning how to walk, talk, eat and everything else because of COVID.”
Laura Stoltz, a Norfolk mental health practitioner and NPS parent of four, said while she understands the need for some families to be remote, implementing a districtwide remote model would be detrimental for some students.
“I understand there are issues with the safety of kids being in school, but then there is another side of that, the kids who aren’t safe at home,” she said. “They are the kids who come to my office. No one knows they are safe. No one knows if they are eating, bathing, not locked in a closet. That is something we don’t have the ability to control unless we have adults who can see them and keep them safe.”
The Norfolk Public Schools board of education met for its monthly meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the central administration office, 512 Phillip Ave.
The meeting lasted 2 hours, 41 minutes.
Board members present: Arnie Robinson, Sandy Wolfe, Tammy Day, Bruce Mitchell, Patti Gubbels and Bob Waite. Others in attendance: Two from the media, multiple district administrators and several members of the public.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
— Administrators voted on amendments the COVID-19 Return to School plan.
— Board members approved the addition of full-time teacher and para-educator substitute positions.
— Approved the revised COVID-19 Return to School Plan.
— Approved the addition of full-time teacher and para-educator substitute positions.
— Approved the second reading of policy 8153 — standing committee on American civics.
— Approved the second and final reading of board policy 5001 (admission requirements) and 1211 (Title IX — procedure for complaints of sexual harassment).
— Approved the first reading of board policies 6000-6282 related to instruction.
FUTURE MEETINGS: The next meeting of the board of education will be Thursday, Oct. 22, at noon. The next regular meeting will be Monday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m.