The Albia Community School Board accepted the administration’s plan to halt the hybrid (50-50) system of instruction for 7th-12th grade students the end of this week and return to face-to-face learning on Monday, Sept. 21 at Monday’s board meeting.
The board also voted to accept a matrix tool the administration can follow in the event of future student or staff COVID-19 outbreaks.
Superintendent Kevin Crall and principals Richard Montgomery (7-12), Joellen Schwartz (Lincoln Center 3-6) and Billy Strickler (Grant Center K-2) were in attendance to visit with board members about the opening of school. Other than breakfast and lunch being served in classrooms and the challenge of teachers being with students almost constantly from the beginning to the end of the school day, instruction for K-6 has returned to mostly a normal routine.
“We are concerned about the stress our teachers face with reduced time for planning,” said Crall.
Strickler provided proficiency numbers of kindergarten, first and second graders that showed numbers down from a year ago because of students being out of regular classes last spring. “We knew we were going to take a hit, but I am pleased that they weren’t lower,” he wrote in his report to the board. Proficiency numbers are down about 15 percent from a year ago.
Principal Schwartz said numbers at Lincoln Center were following similar paths with students missing a quarter last spring of face-to-face learning with teachers.
Student absences also rose from the first week to the second week, from about two percent to a high of eight percent, still under the benchmark of 10 percent. However, the number of strictly on-line learners has been steadily dropping from the first day of school. Currently there are four pre-K “packet” learners, 11 Grant on-line learns, 26 at Lincoln and 47 at the high school.
The biggest change from the beginning of school came at the 7-12 building when the district moved to hybrid learning because of three calls to administration about students testing positive for COVID-19. Principal Richard Montgomery said the transition from five-day face-to-face learning to the every other day hybrid learning model went relatively smoothly, but numbers are showing students are not keeping up.
About 40 students have faced quarantines during the period of time the junior high and high school began the hybrid model and so far (to the district’s knowledge) no other positive tests have been reported, nor were any of the students quarantine identified as having contracted COVID-19. Contact tracing was used to identify students the district felt needed to be quarantined.
No staff members have contracted the virus as well.
So far athletic teams have not be adversely affected, although a few athletes have faced 14-day quarantines.
Superintendent Crall told the board he and the staff have developed a matrix to be used to determine when hybrid learning or full on-line learning should be used and currently the junior high and high school is well under the matrix for hybrid suggesting a return to regular classes.
He said Monroe County Public Health is pleased with the matrix tool, which the board later approved.
“Kids need to be in school,” Crall told the board. “We have to be flexible and adaptable, but we have to have our students back in their classrooms doing things as safe as possible. If our kids aren’t getting the kind of education they need, it can affect them years down the road.”
He added that the district would be stopping on-line instruction for students who do not have a doctor’s note.”
School board member Cindy Cronin expressed some reservations about leaving the hybrid model, partly because of the number of students that face quarantine if a person does test positive. Mallory Stocker added that she felt mask wearing should be strongly encouraged among students.
Board member Linda Hoskins said that as she observed students during a substituting stint, most of those who were wearing masks were athletes. One of the things discussed about mask wearing was the fact that it really doesn’t play a part in the quarantining decisions.
In looking at other schools in the AEA, it is almost evenly split with 16 requiring masks for students and 20 for staff and 14 strongly recommending masks for students and 10 for staff.
Within the AEA, 23 schools have face-to-face learning with seven hybrid at the elementary level, 18 with face-to-face at the junior high level and 12 hybrid and 16 face-to-face at the high school level and 14 using hybrid models.