The Montrose Area School District pivoted away from its plan for a full reopening this fall, as the board gave its nod Monday night to a preliminary plan that calls for a hybrid option that blends in-person and remote instruction.
In a marathon work session via Zoom that lasted about three hours, Superintendent Chris McComb laid out the plan and answered questions from parents, teachers and staff.
Similar to the plan approved by the Blue Ridge School Board last week, the hybrid model will allow for students to be divided into two groups. The 50 percent reduction of students on the campuses will allow for the district to meet social distancing recommendations from the CDC and state.
“Two weeks ago, many schools were planning to fully reopen,” McComb said. “Over the past week, many have shifted to a hybrid approach or a full online reopening.”
The superintendent said the district administrators felt the hybrid model was the best option for the Montrose Area School District.
“These decisions we make directly affect every member of my family and we do not take that lightly,” said McComb, adding that the decisions are being made with careful consideration of the implications.
In the hybrid model proposed in Montrose, Group A students will receive in-person instruction on Mondays and Wednesday; with Group B students attending classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All students will receive remote instruction on Fridays. Students in the same households will attend school on the same days.
When not in school, students will participate in synchronous, live instruction with their classes via their Chromebooks.
The plan will be in operation for the first marking period and then assessed by the district to see if it is a model that continues or is altered.
McComb said the recommendations and guidance school districts are receiving from the state is constant. The Department of Education does not approve reopening plans, and instead leave those to the local boards.
McComb also noted that students must wear face masks while riding buses. “I know that is an unpopular mandate,” he said.
He also said he understands that a number of parents are not comfortable sending students back to the classroom for instruction. For those families, students can participate in their classes fully witg remote instruction or join with the Montrose Cyber Academy.
The hybrid model allows for the district to achieve the six-feet distancing in the classrooms and provides for more opportunities for students to work in their classrooms without masks. It also provides for greater social distancing on buses.
“It’s not perfect, but it is better than the alternatives,” McComb said. “A lot of thought has been put into the decision and (the decision) might be taken out of our hands entirely if the governor or secretary of health determine that is necessary.”
The superintendent also recognized some “cons” to the reopening plan, citing childcare obstacles, the dependence on technology and internet service, as well as the challenge of not having students in the classroom each day.
McComb said, “Our number one concern is to balance the imperative to open the schools with the public health imperative.”
He noted the closure of schools at the end of the last school year has led to substantial educational losses and noted it was difficult to keep students engaged with online learning. “Online classes are not as effective as in-person for most students,” McComb said. He also stated that the closing placed a large burden on parents and the community.
McComb fielded questions and comments regarding the plan for several hours.
The district administrators will be working to flesh out the hybrid plan, posting information on the district website, and will revisit a final plan at the Monday, Aug. 10 meeting.