Yukon students will be returning to the physical classroom sooner than expected.
The school board voted Tuesday during its regular September meeting to end the continuous learning plan early following the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth.
The vote to return to the classroom was 4-1 with board President Suzanne Cannon casting the lone vote against the plan.
Under Simeroth’s proposal, students in prekindergarten through third grade will return to the classroom Wednesday, while those in grades four through 12 will return Sept. 21.
Simeroth said bringing the younger students back earlier would allow them to become more familiar with the routines of going to school.
The vote came after more than hour of questions and discussion from board members.
Yukon began the year with a continuous learning plan with the goal of returning to the classroom after fall break.
That decision was the result of an increased number of COVID-19 cases.
However, he suggested moving the return date forward as COVID numbers appear to have leveled off.
The are now fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people.
Simeroth said the district continues to monitor the situation but felt it had stabilized to the point of being able to bring students back.
Cannon asked most of the questions during the meeting.
Among them was one about continuous learning plan students moving to the virtual program or vice versa.
Simeroth originally said students who are part of the continuous learning plan will need to return to the physical school.
However, Friday, the district announced it was allowing parents who want to change their children to virtual learning or vice versa could do so until Wednesday.
Simeroth said if a student moves to the virtual program now, they will be weeks behind and would start from scratch.
As of Tuesday, there were 678 students enrolled in virtual school, he said.
Yukon has approximately 8,800 students.
“When we come back to school, it is designed to make it seamless,” he said.
That mean students will pick up where they left off.
Simeroth had offered the board three options: Stick with the current plan, which was to return after fall break; return everyone on Sept. 23; or the phased-in option.
Simeroth was asked about the possibility of an A-B schedule, where students split time between online learning and being in the classroom.
He said that isn’t an option for Yukon.
“It wasn’t going to be our recommendation to start that way, and it’s not the state’s recommendation,” he said.
The state Department of Education recommends the alternative schedule only when a community reaches 25 cases per 100,000.
“One of our concerns is the academic piece of it. Literally, only getting half of the education,” he said.
Simeroth also said it would be difficult for teachers to do both classroom and online work at the same time.
“Our primary concern is to make sure that if we bring them back that they are in the best instructional setting,” he said.
That, Simeroth said, is the traditional classroom.
“We said many, many times that if you are in the CLP and we roll back into class, you will roll back into class with us,” he said.
Asked what happens if a quarantine is needed, teachers will be prepared, the superintendent said.
“Our teachers are so well prepared and so forward-thinking … they will plan for that occasion just in case it does happen,” he said.
Board member Michelle Hawthorn said the situation is frustrating.
“We understand. It sucks. It’s frustrating, but you have to roll with it,” she said.
Still, Simeroth said he stands behind how the district began the school year because everything was so unsettled.
“Now we have teachers who are well-versed, parents are better at it, students are better at it,” he said, pointing out that if the district does go back to a CLP, everyone knows what to expect.
“I don’t foresee us closing down the district again. And I don’t see a site or a classroom necessarily. We are better (prepared),” he said. “It’s going to be tough to have mass quarantines and mass exposures at this point.”
In addition, each school has a detailed plan on how to situations such as meals and assemblies.
Should Yukon reach a certain level on the state’s COVID map, Simeroth said it is likely that temperatures will be taken before students enter the school.
Also, students in Pre-K through fifth grade will be required to wear masks while entering the building and in common areas. They will be able to remove the masks in the classroom.
However, students in sixth through 12th grades, a mask will be required at all time.
Vicky Bonny, the president of the Yukon Public Educators Association, said she was surprised the district is returning to class before fall break.
“I do know there are some teachers who are ready and some with lots of concerns,” she said. “I don’t know if it is a right or wrong answer.”
Bonny said the main concern is whether there will be space for social distancing in the classrooms and teachers who might have underlying health issues.
“There are lots of unknowns,” she said.
However, Bonny also pointed out that every teacher is anxious to have their students in the classroom.
The YPEA conducted a survey of its members about returning to the class.
Of the 618 responses received, 58.3 percent said they wanted students back in the classroom, but had some concerns; 20.9 percent said they had no concerns and 20.9 percent said they did not want students in the class because they had lots of concerns.
Bonny said the teachers are now switching gears in preparation for the return of students.
“We spent a lot of time learning a new way of teaching. Now, we’re switching back. It was a work in progress and everyone was just getting the hang of it,” she said.