Sam Hennigh and Brandon Peoples contributed to this story
Discussions concerning ongoing hybrid learning within the district continued Wednesday night at the USD 383 Manhattan/Ogden school board meeting.
The board opted at a previous meeting to continue the hybrid model through the end of December with plans to re-evaluate before the new year. The decision has not been met without criticism from parents in the district and some members of USD 383 staff. Board members brought up concerns they’ve been faced with since that decision was made. Most notable is the shortage of staff necessary to make five-day a week school happen.
That staffing concern has been well documented by Assistant Superintendent Eric Reid who continues to harp on issues related to the district’s classified staff.
“We’ve made significant strides in our classified payments in the past few years and if that’s something it takes to retain current staff, I’m planning on bringing a classified increase proposal for our hourly classified staff to the next meeting. It’s going to be significant, as far as bottom line to the district,” he said.
Reid says because the district has been short staffed for months, they have been under what was budgeted for payroll. This means they would be able to support this increase early on, but may struggle later on. Reid says this may even challenge staffing at the new Oliver Brown Elementary, which is slated to open next fall.
“Because of choices we’ve made so far we’ll be in a responsible position. I won’t put us in an irresponsible position, but we’re not going to be in a comfortable position. Where we had it planned out, we were in a comfortable state to do what we needed to do. Now it’s not going to be quite that way,” he said.
Reid didn’t provide specifics on his proposal, but says any kind of staffing increase can help with on site efforts. Other areas where the ditstrict is experiencing shortages include bus drivers, food service, and para-professionals.
For board member Katrina Lewison, she says they’ve heard overwhelmingly that hybrid isn’t working for many students.
“Speaking from first hand experience, yes it is hard. So when parents say my kids are failing I say you’re right. When I hear teachers say we’re overwhelmed I say you’re right. When families say thank you for protecting our health I say you’re right, because there isn’t necessarily a right answer,” she said.
Lewison says the decision to continue in hybrid was not directed solely due to metrics, and instead considers logistical concerns, and staffing shortfalls.
“I am wholeheartedly in support of returning kids five days a week and so for any of the community members saying the board is wavering, I’m not wavering on that. If there are families who think that’s increased risk to their health, I want families to understand we still have a commitment to offering remote education for those families,” she said.
Vice President Jurdene Coleman has been outspoken with condemning the negative responses constituents have leveled toward the board’s ruling offering the need for respect.
“I think there is a level of being able to listen and hear people out and I will take phone calls if I’m available and have a constructive conversation with folks. To me there should be a level of grace and respect because we were elected to those positions. I think we deserve that, not just as school board members, but as human beings,” she said.
Lewison believes the board rushed their decision to stay in hybrid model and says they need to take more time asking questions and going through the process work to fulfill that mission.
Frank V. Bergman Elementary Principal Steve Koch offered some perspective of the team effort his school is using to approach the situation.
“We have to not look at your child is more important than this child. We have to look at the needs. When we looked at those needs, we gradually brought in the most needy kids first and we’re still bringing them in. That may mean that my child, who is more important to me, doesn’t get in right away,” he said.
Koch says the amount of students being allowed to attend will be increased based upon observations made to ensure safety is maintained and staffing can accommodate those with greater needs. This however is not without challenges, as many students with difficulties are being taught alongside those who don’t as Koch explained that these students may receive the same instruction twice and lose focus.
“As we bring in the less needy, Monday, Tuesday they get the new instruction, Thursday, Friday they don’t need the same instruction. So now they start to act up, causing problems for those Thursday, Friday in class kids because they’re not getting new instruction. Instead of being home, learning remotely, you’re in school because we don’t have enough staff to do both,” he said.
The school board will next convene on Nov. 18.