Yukon’s superintendent apologized, but said he doesn’t have a good answer for families who will need to stay home with their children while they are going through the district’s continuous learning plan.
Dr. Jason Simeroth made his comments during a “town hall” format video chat with district communications manager Larrissa Lockwood.
Lockwood, over the past few weeks, has been gathering questions and concerns from district residents about the continuous learning plan.
In the 26 minute video interview, which can be found on the district’s website and Facebook page, Lockwood posed nine questions to Simeroth that were among the most asked by patrons.
The top question was in relation to parents who have to work during the day.
Simeroth said he doesn’t have an answer, but believes the decision to hold classes virtually during the first nine weeks is the right one.
“We understand that this is not the best situation. It is not what we want. We want them all back in. We are compassionate, we want to help and do what we can for you at home. … It’s not advantageous for us to do this for that (social) piece, but it is for the health piece. That’s where our concerns lies is the overall health of teachers, staff, support staff and grandparents. That was behind our decision,” Simeroth said. “I just don’t have that answer. … My heart goes out to you.”
Simeroth said that while he is aware that many parents may have to hire baby-sitters, or recruit family members to help, there were few other options based on the current situation with COVID-19.
In the long run, it will be beneficial not having students in the classroom, the superintendent said.
He said students would not return to the classroom, unless it has been deemed safe to return.
The district will use several sources to make that decision, including a weekly report from the state health department and a global pandemic map, which is released each day.
Simeroth said currently, Canadian County is seeing anywhere from nine to 13 people per 1,000 diagnosed with COVID-19 each week, according to the state report.
However, the numbers are significantly higher on the information provided by the global map, ranging from the upper teens to the low 20s.
Simeroth said for students to return to the physical classroom, those numbers would need to be in the 10 range for at least two consecutive weeks.
“That shows a trend, that we’re getting over the hump. As we go along, that is our baseline,” he said.
In addition, the district is in constant contact with health experts both locally and across the state to determine what can be expected in the coming weeks.
Another factor, he said, is what is happening with the virus in the community.
“Are we getting reports from parents and students about exposure and positive tests? If we get one, it can close down a school, a site, a classroom. It can close down a district,” he said.
Simeroth said it is important to protect the district’s most valuable assets — it’s people.
The superintendent said one area the district is focused on is making sure children are fed.
He said the district’s nutrition program is working to develop a plan to make sure meals are provided, both breakfast and lunch.
Students who qualify for free- and reduced-priced meal programs will continue to receive that benefit.
Those who normally pay full-price for their meals can still purchase meals, and he encouraged everyone to apply for the federal benefit.
Meanwhile, the district also is reviewing options for getting those meals to students.
One possibility is having parents pick up meals for the entire week on a single day.
Some sites may have pickup locations or the meals might be delivered to a specific location by bus.
Simeroth said those details are still be worked out.
While the district is offering both its continuous learning plan and its virtual school program to each student this year, Simeroth said whatever choice is made should be a semester-long commitment.
That, he said, will allow the district to determine class sizes and also make sure the students receive continuity in their education.
The continuous learning plan is being taught by Yukon teachers using Yukon’s curriculum.
The virtual program uses nondistrict curriculum and there is no guarantee the students will be taught the same material the CLP students will receive.
One question that parents have asked involve tutors and other assistance for parents working with their children.
Simeroth said efforts are being made to making sure there is a “help line” available, possibly using Zoom during a specific time period.
“We understand that not everyone will be home during the day with their children. We will have something, some opportunity for parents to log in,” he said. “We are working on it.”
The lesson plans that are provided by the CLP will be available throughout the week. He said there likely will be some grace period for students to complete their work.
For younger students, those in prekindergarten through first grade, there will be two blocks of time that students can choose from.
Simeroth said teachers don’t expect young students to stay focused for five hours a day. Instead, they will either attend a block of classes in the morning or the afternoon.
Students will be provided electronic devices by the school.
In fact, every student in the district will be provided either a tablet (younger students) or a Chromebook.
For those who don’t have internet access, Simeroth said the district has purchased equipment that will be distributed to apartment complexes, mobile home parks and other locations that will allow students or parents to download the curriculum.
He said the district already is working to determine that need.
Unlike the plan in the spring, the district does not plan to distribute the lesson plans on paper this fall. Everything will be provided electronically.
He also said that while the spring plan was to maintain where the students were at, educationally, the fall plan will be to move forward.
Counselors to help
Another area of concern, Simeroth said, is making sure that students’ mental health is OK.
He said the district will have resources for both the students and parents, including counselors who will work with them.
Simeroth also said more questions and answers about the program are available on the district’s website, yukonps.com, under the return to learn tab.
Classes in Yukon are scheduled to begin Aug. 24.
The district’s school board will review its options about students’ return to campus during its October meeting.