On July 29, with support from the Board of Education, Parkway Schools announced a significant change to its “Return to Learn” plan, which will now begin with nine weeks of distance learning at home.
On July 16, Parkway announced its three options for students, including an in-school learning experience, a virtual at-home model and a blend of the two. At that time, Parkway had hoped to begin the school year on Aug. 24 with the blended approach, which would include two days of in-class, in-person engagement and three days of virtual studies.
Then, on July 27, County Executive Dr. Sam Page issued a new directive prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people and limiting businesses to 25% capacity. Those restrictions, which go into effect on July 31, were enough for Parkway to reconsider its plan.
“In order to help contain the spread of the virus, we simply cannot engage in face-to-face learning in a high-quality way under these updated health guidelines,” Superintendent Dr. Keith Marty said in an email to parents on July 29. “Additionally, current CDC guidelines state that schools should make decisions based on the level of virus transmission in the local community, which is currently at an all-time high.”
The distance learning is scheduled from Aug. 23 through Oct. 23, which ends the first quarter. Going virtual for the whole quarter will help to provide continuity and certainty for the first few months of school, Marty explained.
“We will be watching more closely mid-to-late September for trends and predictions for decisions on learning for second quarter,” Marty said. “Our hope is to step into the blended approach.”
Kevin Beckner, assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and accountability, explained that the transition from distance learning to the blended, in-school option will require some creative teaching strategies.
Prior to the July 29 announcement, Parkway families were asked how they wanted their students to attend school this fall. According to Beckner, 34% of students selected the virtual studies option, which means opting to learn from home for the first semester of the school year, regardless of the possibility of returning to the classroom. Approximately 20% of teachers requested to teach virtually.
Now, all Parkway students and teachers will be virtual for the first nine weeks. If and when students and teachers are able to return to an in-person, blended option, the goal is to make that transition as smooth as possible, keeping students with the same teachers in the classroom that they had online.
Educators who provide medical documentation of risk will receive preference for teaching virtually. Others educators will be given consideration on a case by case basis with the goal of as little interruption for students as possible.
Unfortunately, Beckner said, “There is a possibility that students (might) have to change teachers, but we still have to plan for that (blended learning) transition.”
Recognizing that the distance learning will present childcare challenges to families, there are ongoing discussions with the Parkway-Rockwood Community Ed program Adventure Club and with area childcare providers to help facilitate solutions. At press time, no final decisions have been made.
Also, Parkway is working closely with the Special School District (SSD) to meet the needs of students who will not thrive under a distance learning model.
“There are a group of children that we will have difficulty in meeting their educational needs, including English language learners. We recognize that they need intervention from an equity and achievement gap concern,” Marty said.
Meetings are ongoing but there will be more information in the next few weeks for families served by SSD.
“We are working on the education side to make it a quality experience,” Beckner said. “We’re proud of our teachers transitioning to the distance learning, which will look and feel different than the e-learning we created this spring.”
According to Rockwood officials, there are no immediate plans to change that district’s “Return to School” plan.