Milton School District families must decide by Friday how their students will attend school amid the pandemic this fall, and the quandary prompted many questions from parents at two virtual sessions Tuesday.
Superintendent Rich Dahman said some questions could not be answered because they depend on information the district receives from parents.
Under the district’s reopening plan, Milton Forward, parents are asked to choose between virtual learning and onsite learning for grades 4K-6. Students in grades 7-12 have the option of a hybrid model that has them in school every other day.
When the district knows how many students will attend school in person, officials can then establish small groups known as “cohorts” to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus, Dahman said Tuesday.
Under “cohorting,” an option recommended by the state Department of Public Instruction, students are assigned to a small group of peers, which will allow them to physically distance more easily.
In grades 4K-6, cohorts will meet five days a week with a primary homeroom teacher. Classes such as art, music and physical education will take place within the cohorts’ learning environment. Lunches and recesses will be staggered to encourage physical distancing between cohorts.
Students in grades 7-12 will be assigned to A/B cohorts based on last names. A/B schedules will alternate between in-person and virtual instruction every other day.
Dahman said parents will have opportunities to change their minds during a week in mid-August and during the first week of school.
He also acknowledged that situations can change for families and communities. He said it’s easier for the district if students onsite switch to virtual learning because that doesn’t increase the size of the cohorts.
“Starting virtual then coming to school is trickier logistically,” he said, adding that switching in that case would be allowed if space is available.
If students have been learning onsite but get sick or must quarantine, he said they would be able to switch to virtual learning.
The number of students in a cohort will depend on the size of a room and 6 feet or more of social distancing. While a specific number of students has not been set, Dahman said about 15 is a general guideline.
It’s not yet clear if the district will need to hire additional staff.
“It is a possibility, but it is also a significant cost,” Dahman said.
Face coverings will be required for students, staff and visitors. Dahman said face shields, bandannas and gaiters will be allowed along with face masks.
When students are more than 6 feet apart, they will be allowed to take off their masks for a “mask recess.” When students are social distancing and no one is moving around the classroom, masks are “recommended” but not required, he said.
Lunch, recess and physical education will be physically distanced, Dahman said.
Students and staff are required to be screened for COVID-19 at home. Before coming to school, they must not have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher and one or more of the other symptoms.
When students arrive at school, they will go immediately to their classrooms.
Lockers will not be used. Instead, Dahman said students will be allowed to bring backpacks into classrooms.
Dahman encouraged parents to ask questions of principals and administrators. He advised waiting to ask questions about transportation and when students need to be quarantined because the district needs to get more information.
Academically, “the expectations for students when they’re not onsite would be the same standards that students have when they’re onsite,” Dahman said. “We decreased our expectations this spring because we were jumping into virtual learning without time for staff to be prepared.”