San Juan School Board approves COVID return-to-school plan

With less than a month to go before students return to school, just what that will look like is still uncertain.

The San Juan School Board approved a “COVID re-entry plan” on July 16 that outlines three options for students as schools return from a public health crisis that has closed classrooms since mid-March.

Students can select a face-to-face learning option, a blended virtual learning option, or an independent virtual learning option.

The face-to-face option is the traditional in-class model, while the blended option is the San Juan learning model delivered at home with school oversite. The third option is curriculum delivered to students at home through a commercial contract.

Just what the schools will do will be determined after students and parents choose one of the three options. Registration will begin on July 27 and extend through July 31.

Superintendent Ron Nielson said the registration “is as early as we can because the data will drive a lot of our decisions.”

After the registration, each individual school will determine how to implement the education process.

“The whole situation is very fluid,” said Nielson. “We are going to have to be nimble and flexible.”

Nielson said the current plan is written in umbrella format, and individual schools will make the very detailed decisions to implement the plan.

“There is still a lot of input that needs to be made at the school, teacher, and administrator level,” said the Superintendent

One directive the district will carefully follow is to be in compliance with a variety of entities, including the Navajo Nation, the State of Utah, and the local and tribal health departments.

As a result, it is anticipated that as long as the Navajo Nation retains a red public health status, the schools that primarily serve students from the Navajo Nation will have very limited face-to-face instruction.

Nielson said he is excited to start a new school year. “A tremendous amount of work went into this plan,” said Nielson.

“We included lots of voices: parents, staff, students, Navajo Nation, State of Utah, health departments, and the San Juan Education Association.”

The plans include a variety of protocols and precautions to be taken in the schools, including how the schools will respond to various scenarios, such as transportation, movement in the hallways, classroom interaction, lunchroom transition, restrooms, recess, and restrictions on large group gatherings.

Nielson said the district is considering the teacher and staff workload. “We do have concerns about what we are asking our staff across the district to do.”

The schools are prepared to alternate the daily time schedule to handle the extra workload and expectations of the teachers.

The plan is based on parent choice. School officials clearly expressed the sentiment that in-school instruction is the best situation for students but also understand the need to carefully safeguard public health and parental choice.

Based upon a survey sent to parents this summer, it is anticipated that the majority of students in the southern “River Area” schools may choose the at-home models, while the majority of students in the northern “Mountain Area” schools will choose in-school instruction.

The blended virtual learning model aligns instruction that takes place in the classroom with in-home learning. This option can deliver the instruction to students if schools are closed for a quarantine situation.

The option still connects the student to the home school, with a classroom teacher that stays in contact with student and parent. The instruction is delivered through the Canvas software system, an online learning platform designed to make it easier for students, parents, and teachers.

To deal with the large number of students who do not have internet access at home, the schools are working to design instruction that can be downloaded at the school and worked on at home, whether or not there is internet access.

Heritage Language instruction will be available under all three options.

The third option will be completely online with courses from Schools PLP for elementary students and Edgenuity for high school students.

A full range of courses are available, including core curriculum, elective courses, and CTE courses.

While students may be able to move back and forth as needed between the first two options, this option will require a student to finish a course online.

This option is no cost to students or parents and follows a self-learning pace and self-individualized model.

A packet of information has been mailed to every parent in the district, with a Navajo translation available through a QR code.

Extensive protocols have been designed to protect the students and staff. Parents will be asked to monitor each child’s temperature on a daily basis and look for symptoms.

The district plans to provide two face coverings for each student, with each individualized to the student and in the school colors.

Social distancing guidelines will be followed, including desks facing forward, air circulation monitored, limited furniture, and technology devices assigned to each student.

Hand sanitizer, water bottles, and masks will be required, although Nielson quoted Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who stated, “There will be reasonable times when the masks may need to be lowered.”

Providing school lunches may be a challenge, making it difficult for a single cafeteria to supply both hot meals in the school and meals delivered to students working at home.

The school district delivered more than 250,000 meals to students during the spring quarter closures.

The CARE Act provided $710,000 to pay for the needed precautions. Nielson said, “We will not have a problem spending it.”

More than 25 people provided comment during the public comment portion of the meeting. The comments reflect the wide range of challenges faced by the district.

Comments ranged from teacher concerns about safety and workload to parental concern. While some expressed a hesitancy to send their children to the classroom, others were adamant that the schools reopen.

A number of parents expressed concern about the lack of internet access to remote homes.

The general consensus was appreciation for the choices but concern about how the system will be implemented.

Nielson said, “The board will address these issues at every meeting.” Whatever is decided and implemented may need to change.

In other matters at the July 16 board meeting, the board discussed capital projects in the district, including construction on the new elementary school in Bluff.

August 10 is the estimated move-in date at the new school. There will be a simple dedication service in the fall, with a larger community-wide celebration postponed to the spring.

August 3 is the completion date for the gymnasium at Montezuma Creek Elementary School.

Other projects include new tracks at Monticello, Whitehorse, and Monument Valley high schools and a re-top of the track at San Juan High.

There is additional asphalt work at several locations and a new classroom and office expansion at Blanding Elementary School.

The board approved an Early Literacy Grant proposal, approved a report of the participation of Native American students in school programs, and voted to demolish a home owned by the district adjacent to Monticello High School.

San Juan Record

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