RE-1 Valley School District is planning to return to in-person learning this fall, but it will look different. Shila Adolf, the district’s new incoming superintendent, shared plans for returning to school during a community update meeting held via Zoom on Wednesday, which was attended by approximately 62 parents, teachers, staff and community members.
While Adolf doesn’t come on board full-time until July 1, she has been working with the district since she was appointed the new superintendent in March, just as the state ordered school buildings to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since then, she has spent time meeting remotely with principals, school board members and just recently staff.
“I really feel like this last spring we had a collective effort to really define our new normal,” Adolf said. “I want to thank parents, I want to thank community members, because I do feel like we reacted in a way that we best could at the time.”
Looking ahead, the superintendent was clear that district wants to be proactive and take time to design a plan that fits the requirements the state has set. That plan will focus on returning to school in person while limiting risk.
Adolf acknowledge that it is going to be challenging and there are going to be parts of the plan that people won’t like, but she also said, “I’m really hoping this school district can educate people and be a positive pillar of strength for you guys to really unite around the fact that these are things we can’t change and this is how we have to function in a new normal.”
Why return to in-person learning? Adolf said not only is it more academically appropriately for students to be in the classroom, but there are social emotional needs that weigh in – for some students it’s the only place they get and meal and for students who don’t get as much support at home they need the love and care of their teacher. Plus, it will help to strengthen the economy by allowing parents to be able to return to work and know their children are in good hands.
Adolf explained the data Gov. Jared Polis is using and the data RE-1 is using to make decisions is not the number of COVID-19 positive test cases, but the number of COVID-19 admissions to the hospital.
The superintendent is currently working on creating a guidebook detailing what the return to in-person learning will look like. To help her in developing that plan, she will be sending out a survey soon to parents and community members to get input on what they would like to see. Once the guidebook is completed it will be shared on the district website and it will be a living document, meaning it’s not set in stone.
“We want to see how things start and how they evolve and we’ll make changes, we’ll loosen the reigns as we’re able to,” Adolf said, but point out a second spike in COVID-19 cases is anticipated in October, which is expected to be worse then April, and after looking at the data, she believes while it may not hit Logan County it will definitely impact the Denver Metro Area. “I just can’t see as we open back up there not being some challenges going forward.”
RE-1 plans is planning for a re-opening with modified on-campus learning, meaning schools are open with significant changes including social distancing, alternate schedules and modified capacity.
Adolf has worked with the building principals the last two weeks to re-invent a plan and Gov. Jared Polis has given positive forward motion that RE-1’s plan would be accepted, but the district still needs to partner with Northeast Colorado Health Department and medical providers to make sure they’re on board.
Regarding social distancing, RE-1 is asking not to use the six-foot distance rule, which isn’t feasible, but cohort groups instead. For example, at the high school level freshmen would be put into groups of 25 and their access to other groups would be limited. Instead of students moving from classroom to classroom teachers will become mobile.
Cohort grouping for kindergarten to fourth grade will be similar to what has happened in the past, but for the rest of the grade levels it will be a change. Adolf’s plan has grades five through 10 with higher restriction in cohorts, while juniors and seniors would be allowed a little bit more freedom to participate in concurrent enrollment and electives in a different manner.
Right now all cohorts are listed at 25 students, based on student population count and classrooms available, unless it’s a high needs classroom and the numbers will be restricted. Most principals are saying the average cohort will probably be 20 or 21 students.
The benefit of using cohorts is if someone is diagnosed with COVID-19 then only the cohort would be shutdown and move to distance learning instead of the entire school or school district.
“The only way I could really see us returning districtwide to remote learning is if there is a significant influx of COVID cases directly in our community and the governor’s office just flat out says ‘you’re done for a bit,’” Adolf said.
In regards to alternate schedules Adolf said “we’re not necessarily alternating a schedule, but we are going to redefine our schedules, so you are going to see things like the kids’ lunch hours spread out, they won’t be having these large groups in the lunchroom.”
Outside learning will also be promoted.
Students and teachers will be temperature screened when they come into the building every day. Teachers will be required to wear masks at all times and students will be asked to wear masks during common times, such as lunch, and when they’re using the restroom or transitioning in the hallways.
“I really look at it at times that they’re mobile and are not meeting outside, once they’re outside, as long as they’re in their cohort I can see them running around and having some freedom, but then they’ll have that same freedom in their classroom, unless they’re in small groups, they may be asked to put on a mask depending on how close they are distanced to those people,” Adolf said, adding that the district plans to try to help families get access to masks.
Teachers and principals are being asked to enforce the mask wearing.
“We’re going to start really strong on enforcement, because I think it’s important to make sure that we’re doing what we can to just have to shut down cohorts and not have to shut down the entire building or district,” Adolf said, adding that she doesn’t feel disciplinary action needs to be considered at this point.
Each building will create cohort rooms where students are expected to stay in their area, to ensure contact tracing can happen and sanitation. Students will be asked to hand sanitize when they enter or exit a classroom, they will need to bring their own supplies to use and they will be asked to wipe down their desk and chair as needed, to ensure cleaning is happening. Then custodians can come in and sanitize as necessary.
“We’re focusing on common areas, that we’re deep cleaning common areas, such as restrooms, lunch room, any of those facility aspects where a lot of our kids are going to go through,” Adolf said.
In regards to transportation, she said her goal is to continue to provide transportation, but they will need to look at how to implement temperature screenings on buses and what Overland Trail Bus Line, the company that provides busing for in-town students, will tolerate.
Administrators had a conversation about staggered drop off and pick up times, but there are some issues around that related to how that can be done with the school buses and the time schedule.
“The other thing I’m working with legal counsel on is I really do feel like we need to require our staff to be tested, to start at a base level, and then making it optional for community to be tested,” Adolf said, encouraging increased testing for staff and students returning to RE-1. “Because, I think it builds that baseline data for us to really know what we’re starting with in terms of if kids can really transmit this and be asymptomatic and transmit it, I think it gives people reassurances.”
To give teachers enough time to receive professional development and work collaboratively with their teams to make sure they’re ready to implement these new guidelines the district is looking at pushing the first day of school back about a week, to Aug. 19. This won’t result in more days added to the school year unless there is a major weather event.
“I just want you to be open to the idea that you are going to experience an educational shift and it’s not our doing. I keep trying to really reinforce that mindset with people, that this is not being done to you, it’s happening to us. It’s not something that anybody is targeting you specifically on,” Adolf told those attending the meeting.
She will be forming a COVID-19 Parent Advisory Committee to provide input, it will be capped at 15 members, but she is willing to form more than one group if more people want to be involved. Adolf also plans to form advisory committees for different interest areas related to the schools – technology, athletics, etc.
If you’re interested in being on any sort of advisory committee email Adolf at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, contact information and what topic you would be interested in advising on.
“Those committees will live and be viable as long as it’s necessary to create plans and infrastructures and then tapped back into for progress monitoring,” Adolf said.
The meeting also included an introduction to Sterling High School’s new principal, Cynthia Lystad, who is in the process of moving to Sterling.
“Super excited to get this started and I’m very proactive in the way I operate as well, so this feels right. As wrong as it feels in so many ways, I think we’re doing it the right way and I’m happy to be part of that,” she said.