(Editor’s Note-this article was delayed due to technical and logistical issues. We apologize for the inconvenience)
The September 28 meeting of the Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico Unit District #3 School Board centered around a presentation by Superintendent Dr. John Petzke explaining a proposed plan to return more students to district classrooms. The board will make a decision on the plan on October 8th.
Since opening its doors to students on August 24th, the district has given families three different learning options: 100% remote, five day in school, or a hybrid – two days in school three days remote. The idea was to give district families multiple options to facilitate work and childcare needs.
At the meeting, which was predominantly attended by district staff, Petzke said the school year has been very challenging. “It’s been really difficult. It’s not like a typical school year. We have learned a lot and we promised the community we would talk about, evaluate, and change as needed.”
The biggest challenges voiced by staff and building administrators is the inability to really “connect” with the students. This issue has led to a much higher rate of incomplete work and a huge increase in the number of D/F slips being distributed.
6-12 campus Principal Keith Stewart said some 100% remote learners are not participating and are being considered truant. He added that in discussions with area colleagues, the trend is the same throughout the region. “Parents are frustrated. They say, I know what I want my student to do, but I don’t know how to make them do it.” Elementary Principals Jim Geer and Justin Hovey said they are seeing a similar situation.
“This has been much harder on staff than we thought it would be,” said Petzke. It was hoped with the original scheduling that teachers would have time at the end of their day, due to earlier dismissal times, as well as time on Wednesdays, when only five day students were in attendance, to do additional planning. “Our teachers have worked very hard and have done a great job, but the planning time did not work out as we had hoped.” The superintendent added as the days have gone by it has become particularly challenging for families with many struggling with routines.
Petzke presented information showing the current status of Covid-19 cases in the three district communities and surrounding area. To date, no positive cases have been found in the schools but each week several students have been sent home displaying symptoms. Numbers are being tracked in each district building with plans in place if numbers exceed a given threshold.
The “step up plan” would allow students the option to attend school in person four days per week or continue 100% remote learning. There would be no student attendance on Wednesdays with all students learning remotely.
The plan calls for students in Pre-K through first grade and 6th and 9th grade students to begin the new schedule Monday, October 19, the first day of second quarter. Additional grades would be added in two weeks waves to ensure a smooth transition is more students enter buildings. All students would be back in their buildings on a four-day schedule by November 16.
Petzke added that if at any point illnesses exceed threshold levels, the affected building could take a two-week “purposeful pause”, to allow for the virus to run its course. In speaking to the risks of bringing back additional students Penske said, “I think no matter what we do we are going to have cases.”
“The “Step Up” plan is in response to what the majority of stakeholders want. I truly feel right now the teachers are shouldering the responsibility for the whole community and they need help to get a better balance,” added Petzke. “We need to ask the community for help.”
From the beginning of the year the district has also been aware of the possibility that the entire district may be forced into 100% remote learning if dictated by the state.
Board members had varying opinions on the plan. Tya Boucher suggested the plan not be implemented until the second semester saying, “If you bring back the students now you may exacerbate the situation.”
Stuart Malone suggested the district continue to move forward with the plan. “Several teachers are asking for it and I have heard from several community members in favor of it as well. It seems the district is managing Covid better than most.”
The staggered return of students, with lower grades returning first, was explained by Petzke saying, “There is much more control with kids in one room (environment) compared to upper level students who are constantly moving from room to room.
The superintendent said a draft proposal would be shared with the community with the blessing of the board. Feedback will be gathered and the board will meet in a special session on Thursday, October 8 to make a final decision on the proposal.