USD 383 to remain in hybrid learning model while school board re-evaluates plan

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USD 383 will continue the hybrid method of learning until the end of October, but the school board will continue work to improve upon the model.

After being flooded with emails, phone calls, letters, and public comments from concerned parents, the board spent a majority of their meeting Wednesday hearing from teachers and staff about the possibility of changing back to the more traditional 5-day in-person schedule.  The meeting started with public comments made by four parents, some of who already made comments at the previous meeting.

Roxanne Peterson was one of the parents from last meeting, and since then she has removed her son from the district and transferred him to USD 378 Riley County.

“When we asked our first grader about going to a new school, we expected tears.  But do you know what he said? I want a teacher so I’ll go,” says Peterson.

Other parents complained that they are not able to juggle working and teaching their kids, as well as the social and emotional state of their children.  They asked the board to either fix the hybrid model or to go to a five day week.

Dr. Ryan Knopp, who is both a parent and member of the clinical task force, thanked all of the parents who voiced their concerns.  However, Knopp wanted to bring a health perspective to the discussion.

“The fact of the matter and the cold hard reality is that we are still in the midst of a significant health crisis and a pandemic.  We are trying to make the best decisions we can for the public health,” says Knopp.

Knopp says the task force is still advocating the district stay in the hybrid model for now.  Community transmission rates are the main reason for this choice.  The Manhattan community is has so many other larger entities that affect the school district.  Knopp notes that there is not a single college town in the big 12 that has a school district attending all five days in person.

“I sit here today after I just lost my first patient to COVID this past week.  A healthy 70 year old gentleman who quite frankly be your kids’ grandfather, your father, your brother.  No decision we make comes without risk,” says Knopp. “To be in the 50% hybrid that we’re in, I would say is actually on the cutting edge for accepting risk for a community like ours.”

Later on in the meeting, Kansas NEA President Erin Meyer-Gambrel presented the results of a survey from teachers who were asked if they were comfortable going back to the more traditional schedule.  The majority of teachers said they would not feel safe, while the rest were split between “yes” and “don’t know.”

The same question was asked to students and the results showed a tie between the three answers. However, when it comes to the elementary level, Meyer-Gambrel says they also need to hear from staff if they feel their students will be safe returning to a normal schedule. When teachers were asked what conditions would they feel safe under for returning to five day, the majority answered saying case numbers under 10 percent.
Meyer-Gambrel says an alarming amount of teachers and staff said they would resign from their positions if the district goes to a five day schedule. The district has already seen some teacher resignations, leading Meyer-Gambrel to believe additional resignations could leave the district shorthanded.
The board also brought in some teachers to hear how they felt about returning to a five day schedule. Lee Elementary Teacher Cindy Norris says she doesn’t have an opinion either way, but wants the board to hear concerns from teachers.
“I think one more little thing and we’re gonna see a lot more resignations.  There are a lot of concerns with staff over the hybrid model, we only get to see the kids two days a week and those days are awesome,” says Norris.  “I would imagine that most teachers want to see them more, but we want to do it safely.”

Norris says she and her fellow teachers are also worried for parents and understand the stress they are going through, because the teachers are also struggling through some of the same issues.

Woodrow Wilson Teacher Kelly Carmody is in favor of staying in the hybrid model for now. She pointed out some of the positives she has seen with the hybrid model.  Her class sizes are smaller making it easier to form relationships with students and there aren’t any cliques or excluding groups.  However, she also pointed out some negatives such as Canvas, the platform where students receive and turn in assignments online.

After hearing from all entities, board member Jurdene Coleman stated a need to figure out what they are prioritizing so teachers and parents are aware and find an endgame.
“Is it to stop community spread? Mitigate risk? Educate students? Do what our parents are overwhelmingly saying and open the school up five days? But we need to decide whose needs we are prioritizing, what that looks like, and help them figure this out,” says Coleman.

Coleman says she prefers the focus stay on staff concerns since school can’t happen without teachers.  She referred to the comments Meyer-Gambrel made about the possible resignations.

Board member Kristen Brighton says she wants the focus to shift more towards the quality of education and how things could be improved upon in hybrid.

“We have to protect our kids and we have to protect our teachers.  I want to see what we can tweak in the current system.  I want teachers to feel good about what they’re doing and I want the kids to feel excited about going to school again.” says Brighton.  “I think there are just a lot of issues that we need to balance.”
The board voted to keep the district in the hybrid learning model through at least Oct 22 with a 6-1 vote. They still plan to consistently re-evaluate the current hybrid model. They will hold a special work session next week.
You can hear more comments from parents and discussion from the board during their full four meeting below.
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About Author

Sam Hennigh

County government and school board reporter. 2016 Kansas State University graduate in Journalism and Mass Communications. Kansas born and raised.

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