• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Return to Learn

On-site or virtual semesters offered Online teaching to be outsourced Masks strongly recommended but not mandated

SOLON– Solon Community School District (SCSD) families need to decide.
Will students attend classes in-person or virtually?
The choices were outlined July 16 as Superintendent Davis Eidahl revealed more detail about the district’s Return to Learn plan during a regular meeting of the school board.
The plan was to be unveiled to teachers July 17 and released to school families during a webinar July 22.
A team of 38 district employees developed the plan over the summer based on recommendations from the Iowa Department of Education and Department of Public Health.
Face coverings will not be required, but strongly encouraged, for on-site learning, especially in situations when social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained.
Students with health issues or anxiety about returning can choose to remain home and participate in virtual classes provided through two national digital curriculum companies.
Those online learners will be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, but may have limited options to return to the school setting.
The plan, Eidahl said, is focused on the safety of students and staff to provide the best educational experience possible, while allowing the district to fluidly respond to a changing landscape.
Eidahl and Director of Teaching and Learning Josh Lyons spent the better part of an hour outlining the plan and responding to questions from school board members.
The district will open its doors for the first day of school Monday, Aug. 24, Eidahl noted.
A survey of parents found 76 percent wanted to go back full-time on-site. A follow-up survey will be sent out after the plan is released to school families.
Extensive mitigation efforts will be undertaken in the buildings, he added.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be strongly recommended, he said, especially when social distancing becomes difficult.
Students will be encouraged to provide their own face coverings, but the district will also have masks available through a small amount of money the district received from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act.
“So we’re strongly encouraging (masks), but not requiring, even with staff?” board member Jami Wolf asked.
Eidahl replied the district will emphasize modeling intentionally, teaching the students the reasons why coverings are necessary and persuade them to wear face coverings when needed.
Because of statewide rules, a mask requirement would not be enforceable, he said.
Seating charts will be implemented, restrooms have been adapted for hands-free use and 25 new hand-sanitizing stations will be strategically placed throughout buildings, he added.
Time will be spent during the first few days of teacher workshops for training, making sure staff is up to speed, prepared for new routines and rooms are rearranged.
Each building principal will meet with leadership teams to develop plans specific to each site for activities like recess, art and music, he said.
Shared computers will be wiped down between use, Eidahl noted.
“These are practices that we’ll put into place that will take more time, but they’re necessary,” he said.
The district will continue using its electrostatic cleaners and met with engineers regarding onboard ionization filters to improve air quality and circulation in buildings, he added.
Families will be asked to self-assess with four daily “stay home” questions, and district nurses will isolate and screen students who develop symptoms while in the buildings.
In the event a student or an entire classroom needs to be quarantined, the teacher and class will move online temporarily.
With each individual positive case, Eidahl said, school nurses will provide information to Johnson County Public Health (JCPH) and the district will rely on JCPH direction and guidance to proceed.
The plan will also impact transportation, he said. The district provides in-town routes and expects to continue the service, although modifications are expected in the weeks before the start of school.
Field trips will continue to be suspended until further notice.
The district will also have to deal with a shortage of substitute teachers. Principals and educators have been asked to come up with a game plan to accommodate the lack of substitutes, Eidahl explained.
“We will be prepared for that,” he promised.
It’s also possible some Solon educators will be uncomfortable coming back to the classroom for medical or other reasons, he said, especially given that masks cannot be required.
Individual staff members will be asked to contact the administration with their concerns after reviewing the plan.
If the concerns cannot be addressed through adaptive measures, the district will work through each case with counsel to review options available in the
CARES Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the district contract.
Students and families may also have underlying health conditions or extreme anxiety about returning, he said.
For students choosing the online option, one of two national companies will provide a structured curriculum.
“We understand our teachers are going to have a full-time job with students on-site,” Eidahl said. “We aren’t going to have teachers doing both. So we’re outsourcing the home online options.”
High school students can self-pace, the superintendent said, but at the lower level, they need direct interaction with teachers.
For kindergarten through eighth grade, he explained, the SCSD will contract with Edmentum Inc., an online provider of learning programs featuring live certified Iowa teachers and an accredited curriculum aligned with state requirements.
Those at the high school level will receive online instruction through Apex Learning, a provider previously utilized by the district for credit recovery.
The pre-recorded lessons, tutorials and assessment from Apex cost $100-150 per student for the year, varying based on the number of total licenses purchased.
The price for Edmentum’s live teachers and office hours is much higher, at $2,700 per child, Eidahl reported.
The district will allow parents to provide feedback after the Return to Learn plan is released, but will need to know whether students will be on-site or learning virtually within a few weeks to purchase adequate licenses and formalize bus routes.
While the online classes align with state standards, the sequence of subjects may not mirror what’s being taught on-site. As a result, students are likely to be able to change between the two learning options at semester break, although a rolling option might be adopted at the elementary level.
Eidahl said recovery staff would monitor online progress and provide prompts or intervention when needed.
Funds to pay for the online learning services come from the SCSD’s Instructional Support Levy (ISL), while PPE and mitigation efforts will be financed by CARES Act monies, he said.
No general fund dollars will be used, he added.
The ISL typically is utilized for curriculum, technology and materials expenses, he said, and enough money is built up in the fund to absorb the cost for the year.
The district has additionally supplemented the number of internet-capable devices it has available for on-site and virtual learning, he noted.
According to Director of Teaching and Learning Lyons, families were surveyed about their access to devices and the Internet. Most families have access to a device, he reported, but those with multiple children may not have multiple devices.
Some families experience Internet service provider issues, especially in rural areas where connections are unreliable, but it is not a significant problem, he said.
The district has experimented with Mac laptops capable of creating a hot spot, he added.