On August 13th, the Snoqualmie Valley School District approved its official decision regarding the reopening of schools for the upcoming 2020-21 school year at its Board of Directors Meeting. Following suit of many school districts in the area, such as Seattle, Bellevue, and Issaquah, SVSD chose a fully remote instruction model for the time being.
For many, this decision was fairly expected given the high number of Covid-19 cases in King County and the surge in States where schools recently reopened for instruction. For example, in Georgia, the Cherokee County School District, which started in-person school less than two weeks ago, was recently forced to quarantine over 1,000 students and teachers.
However expected this decision was, it still leaves many families unsure of what the school year will bring and how to best support students through these new and trying times.
In addition to approving the 100% online plan, the SVSD Board discussed technology devices, learning platforms, the way the hybrid model would work when/if implemented, as well as the individual plans for the Elementary Schools, Middle Schools, and High School while answering as many of the 83 community questions and concerns as possible.
Technology has had exponential importance in education over the last few months. Hence, the district has purchased hundreds of new devices in addition to those they already own to be able to increase their ability to supply lacking students and teachers with the technology needed to participate in the 100% online model. Wifi hotspots will be up for loan with limited availability.
As mentioned in the meeting, the SVSD will be further utilizing the platform Zoom to their continued and previous use of the platform Teams. The District recently purchased a Zoom license for all teachers to increase the use of Zoom throughout the district. The Board mentioned that they will still heavily rely on the technology platform Schoology.
However, some of the main concerns expressed by the community to the Board of Directors revolved around the feeling that the amount of screen time for the students is simply too much. In response, the Board reminded us that the legal requirements to fulfill have not diminished even during a Covid crisis.
According to the plan approved by the Board of Directors, SVSD’s 100% online learning plan has some big differences between the primary and secondary grade levels in regards to how the online instruction model will work and be implemented. An important commonality is that attendance and engagement will still be accounted for and classes will be taught through direct instruction as much as possible.
In regards to the elementary schools’ plan, to better maximize the set resources and instructional time, there’s the potential that two elementary grade levels will be blended. The district assures that all elementary students will receive an appropriate grade level district teacher, even though that teacher may not be from the same school.
Whether the teacher is from the same school the student attends, falls back to the survey SVSD parents took last spring, where they chose between a hybrid model or a fully online model for their child, as teacher placement is dependent on the level of enrollment in the 100% online model in that particular grade level at that particular school.
The District notes that elementary students will not be split into hybrid versus 100% online learning groups at the moment and the decision will be re-evaluated later on in the year when/if the hybrid model can occur safely. During the school day, elementary students will be split into alternating groups in their class, where they will rotate between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Still, many elementary school parents appear to have concerns regarding the roughly six hours of potential screen time per day, feeling that the many hours of screen time are too much for certain age groups and grade levels.
The middle schools’, Mount Si High School’s, and Twin River’s High School’s plans are slightly different from the elementary counterpart. For said schools, students must stay in the group they previously chose (hybrid or fully online) until the first semester.
Also, hybrid students will be given the choice to remain completely online for the first semester of the school year if students are once again physically able to attend school. For particular and often low-requested middle school and high school courses and pathways, one may be in a class taught by and filled with students from other middle schools.
Some MSHS parents expressed concern regarding the 7:10 am start time that many high school students will face. Others had concerns regarding whether their children’s electives will still take place and be taught by the same teachers as they traditionally were.
According to the Board, they are currently working to figure out a way to teach every class students signed up for, even those that are difficult to teach online like welding and ceramics.
Another concern many MSHS parents expressed was the dislike for the early release day being changed from Friday to Wednesday. The Board, though, argued that it was to make the hybrid model (when/if enacted) easier as it provides a day for classroom sanitization between student groups.
In regards to students with intensive special education needs, SVSD is looking to phase in in-person support for those who struggle with remote learning. For students with disabilities, they will have the opportunity for supplemental instruction time and have access to specifically designed instruction.
Often with big decisions come mixed reactions and opinions. The Snoqualmie Valley School District’s parent community is no different.
Meg Beck, the parent of a 1st grader previously in the district, pulled her child out of school due to concerns regarding the lengthy schedule and hours of mandatory screen time. In replacement, Beck and three other families have opted to “create a structured learning pod” with a hired full-time teacher.
Beck states, “My biggest concern is that I don’t think for these really young kids that it is healthy for them emotionally or physically to be sitting in front of a screen for five or six hours a day.”
She feels that it is counterintuitive to limit ‘fun’ screen time, but then put children in front of a screen for several hours a day for educational purposes.
Beck says she “doesn’t want to taint [the] experience” of education after her first grader’s unhappy experience with online learning last spring. When asked about what the district could do to keep more families on the fence enrolled, Beck suggested “for parents that don’t want screen-based education, [the district should] provide a framework for what should be learned over the year to keep your child on base with the district.”
In contrast, Lisa Kinney, a working parent of a 2nd grader in the district, feels the schedule is great. She said, “It will keep [a] predictable schedule that both her [child and her] can workaround.”
To help combat the hours of screen time last spring, Kinney helped her child alternate between book work and screens. “The district is doing their best with these unprecedented times,” she added.
Kinney stated, “Having a solid 6 hour day of work for my child helps me to get my job done…my day will be fragmented and I will have to help my child navigate her day.”
She said the workplace needs to be flexible and understanding of her need to assist her child with online learning throughout the workday.
Much like Kinney, Anna Sotelo, the parent of an MSHS incoming Freshman, supports the plan.
Sotelo commented, “Covid is running the show. Just because you haven’t seen it [Covid-19] up and personal doesn’t mean you won’t.” She said she feels it’s best to leave it to the experts to decide on the best course of action for reopening schools.
Regardless of where one stands on SVSD’s new plan, social flexibility will undoubtedly be this school year’s main theme and the most taught lesson among both students and parents alike.
As Kinney puts it, “Learning to deal with change is a great thing to carry with you through life.” So perhaps even if our students aren’t learning inside a traditional classroom, they’ll be learning other life-long skills outside of it.