Yakima School District will survey parents to see if families would prefer remote learning, in-person instruction or a hybrid of the two in the coming school year.
The feedback will help the district determine how many teachers and support staff should be allocated to in-person or online instruction when school resumes Aug. 26. School districts statewide closed buildings in mid-March to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
Full online schooling will be available to all K-12 students regardless of whether buildings reopen in August, to ensure families who don’t feel safe returning to school before a vaccine is available have a robust learning option. Attendance will be monitored daily, regardless of whether students learn in-person or remotely.
Details for all three options are being developed by the district. It remains unknown whether campuses will be allowed to reopen, said Rob Darling, Yakima School District assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, during a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.
The district is meeting with the Yakima Health District weekly to discuss plans for reopening, and expects to know by the first week of August whether campuses will reopen, he said.
In the meantime, the district is discussing a variety of issues, such as how to safely provide lunch to students and how to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
District Superintendent Trevor Greene said the district is trying to meet the needs of an array of parents. Some want entirely remote learning until a vaccine is available, while others would like an immediate return to campus.
“So that does require very creative thinking, and knowing first and foremost we cannot please everyone in this,” he said. “We have to do what is right from a standard of safety but also in a standard of educating our students and making sure that we are providing the safety not only for our students but for our staff as well.”
More than 20 different committees of teachers, paraprofessionals, parents and students are working with the district to address how reopening or remote learning could be done in various subcategories of school — from history to physical education.
Some considerations to improve remote learning for the fall include having tutors and teachers available on-demand for remediation efforts and having some teachers start work later in the day or evening to meet the various timing needs of students, Darling said.
Another potential change would be to move students in grades 6-12 from semester schedules to quarters so they would have fewer classes and learning platforms to juggle and teachers could spend more time with each student, he said. Students often take six courses on a semester system, versus three in a quarter system.
Teachers have been participating in professional development courses focused on remote learning skills, he added.
The district has transitioned to a one-to-one system ahead of the new school year, meaning devices will be distributed to every student in the district to support their learning. It is also working to expand district internet boundaries citywide within district boundaries so all students and teachers can connect to online learning platforms from home.
This network expansion should happen by the start of school or the end of September, depending on community partnerships, Greene said.
The parent survey will be sent out in the next two weeks.
Parents interested in the full online learning model will be able to register for that option when they receive the survey. Students will be expected to commit to online learning on a school term basis, rather than alternating from one week to the next, for example.
The district is releasing updated plans for the fall as they are determined on its website, www.yakimaschools.org/reopen. There, a list of frequently asked questions is also available and regularly updated. The website updates are in lieu of a previously planned virtual town hall, given the different summer schedules of school officials.
Nearly 500 individuals had signed up for alerts from the website as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the district.
Greene said the pandemic and remote learning had helped the district realize some areas where they could better meet students’ needs, as well as areas with unseen opportunity gaps. Online learning helped some students excel, he said. It also accelerated the district’s technology expansion plans.
Even after school fully returns to campus in the wake of the pandemic and a vaccine, he said he hoped there would be some permanent changes within the district.
“This has really shined a light on the need for us to be more flexible in meeting families where they are, whether that’s virtually or in the in-school setting,” he said.