By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD — Students attending the South Kitsap School District have two choices in how they will be taught in the upcoming 2020-21 school year under a plan approved last week by the district’s board of directors. One includes a combination of classroom teaching and virtual learning; the second alternative is for students to do all school work remotely.
“Our number-one goal would be a return to school,” SKSD Superintendent Tim Winter told the school board, teachers and parents during a well-attended virtual school board meeting on July 22.
“We believe that is the least disruptive to the lives of our families, our students and staff. However, that does not seem to be an option at this point. Our priority is the health and safety of our students, staff and community. Really the only thing keeping us from going back fully implemented [to a normal in-person school year] in the fall is the need for social distancing.
“We must have six feet of social distancing in classrooms. We have checked all of our schools and classrooms, and a full return to school is just not possible.”
The two-option plan was approved by the school board by a vote of 4-1.
On Monday, the Kitsap Public Health District sent a letter to school districts in the county recommending they conduct classes online only due to rapidly rising coronavirus infection statistics this past week. North Kitsap, Central Kitsap, Bainbridge Island and Bremerton school districts subsequently announced Tuesday that they will start the school year in online-only mode.
SKSD’s Winter told Kitsap Daily News Wednesday that his district will continue to monitor the COVID-19 spread and will take up further discussion next Wednesday at the school board’s meeting.
In the meantime, SKSD families will decide which of the two options – called SK Flex or SK Online – their child will elect to take.
In the SK Flex plan, students will be divided into two groups and will receive a combination of in-building instruction and remote learning. Students in grades 2-12 will be in classrooms two days a week. Approximately, 50 percent of students will attend school two days each week and the other 50 percent will attend the two other days each week.
Students will receive remote instruction on the three days they are not in school buildings.
Wednesdays will be allocated for teachers to check-in with students, small group work, and allow maintenance staff to do a deep cleaning of the school.
Meanwhile, kindergarteners, first-graders and some students receiving special education services will attend class four days each week.
Students will automatically be enrolled in the flex plan, Winter said. Families will need to “opt-out” to enroll in the SK Online alternative.
SK Online Academy
SK Online Academy is the fully remote learning option that will be taught by teachers who aren’t working as part of the SK Flex plan. Schools will use remote learning tools Fuel Ed for grades K-5 and Pearson Connexus for grades 6-12. Each online learning platform contains lessons and assignments for students.
The remote option will follow a typical school day schedule and include virtual live instruction, recorded video lessons and small group check-in.
Some concerned parents who participated in the virtual meeting submitted written questions on whether online students would be expected to be on a computer all day.
“[Based on] the experience we had in spring [during the shutdown] and research, it has been shown that being at the computer seven hours a day is too much,” Winter said.
“We would not expect a student to sit in front of a computer seven hours a day.”
Prior to the start of the school year, parents will be expected to make a one-year commitment about whether their child will do SK Flex or SK Online schooling. Even if the school returned to full on-campus instruction, online students would remain in the online option, he said.
“It would be difficult to change curriculums mid-year,” Winter said, adding that the district understands unique situations may arise that require transferring students from one learning option to the other.
The two-choice plan was prepared by the Instructional Leadership team. The team worked with about 100 administrators, teachers, parents, students and support staff over the past two to three months, Winter said. Guidance was also provided by Kitsap Public Health District, the state Department of Health and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction office.
School officials indicated that regardless of how much planning goes into preparing for the upcoming school year, that plans may change.
“What we are seeing across the water in King County is a lot of school districts saying ‘we are starting fully remote.’ We are hearing the governor may make a call that way,” Winter said.
If it came to a point where Gov. Jay Inslee mandated all schools to do remote learning, a contingency plan would kick in and students in the SK Flex plan would transfer to remote learning, Winter said.
The superintendent outlined what a typical day would be like at a school. He said Smart Start safety precautions will be implemented.
Face coverings will be required for everyone at the schools. Hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout the grounds and social distancing will be instituted. Signage to direct traffic patterns will also be posted.
“Students will arrive and go right to the classroom. There is no gathering in common areas,” he said.
“Lunches will take place either in the cafeteria in shifts or in classrooms.”
Health screening procedures are still being worked on, Winter noted.
“Students will have their temperature taken upon entry or sometime during the school day,” he explained. “It might also be that parents attest they took the student’s temperature and that the child was symptom-free.”
When schools shut down last spring the OSPI, [Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction] mandated that students’ grades during the shutdown would not lower GPAs, he explained.
“This year, typical grading will return. Assignments will be made and grading will run the range of 1,2,3,4 in elementary and middle schools and A, B, C, D and F in high school,” Winter said.
Unlike academics, sports remain in the proposal stage, pending action by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
Currently, the proposal for sports includes four seasons during the school year compared to the normal three seasons. Season one would begin in early September and include cross-country, slow-pitch softball, swimming and diving (if pools are open), golf and tennis.
Season two would kick off in January and include basketball, bowling, boys swimming and diving, cheerleading and wrestling. Season three is slated to start in March and includes volleyball, girls soccer and football.
Season four tentatively begins in late March and covers fast-pitch softball, boys baseball, tennis, track and field, golf, boys soccer, and dance and drill.
“They are putting the higher contact sports toward the end of the school year with the hopes things get better by then,” Winter said.