The Big Spring School District administration has moved secondary level students to a more rigorous four-day schedule of instruction as officials continue to monitor the community and regional spread of the coronavirus.
Superintendent Dr. Richard Fry told the school board Monday that students in grades 6 through 12 have pivoted to four days of distinct instruction. As the middle and high schools operate on a hybrid, split in-person schedule, there are also students learning from home on a live-stream platform. He explained that, “Our secondary students went from two days a week of live instruction, either face-to-face or on livestream, and then two days of true remote learning without their teacher present. Now, the teacher is present for each of the four days, two face-to-face and then two on livestream. It gives us four distinct days of instruction as opposed to two.”
“We’ve been working towards making all four days distinct. That takes a huge effort from a technology and staff standpoint. Some teachers before had 8 to 10 live students, and a few live-streamers. Now there are the same amount of in-person students and an equal amount of live-streamers. That’s a leap for us. We had to make sure everyone has access. Mobile Hotspots have been going out of Mr. Krepps’ office.”
Fry added this education delivery model allows the district to remain in Tier 2 -- with the split hybrid in-person schedule -- for a “significant amount of time.”
“Right now, it’s hard for me to imagine bringing 800-plus students into the high school and 600 into the middle school. This could be very frustrating for families and for students, and could pose some attendance issues. It’s a lot of screen time and it’s completely different. You may hear some frustration. You may hear about challenges from our staff. We’ve put our nose to the grind and worked toward this. As a district, we knew that was the next step. There aren’t many districts around us doing this.”
Fry stressed students at the elementary level remain on the schedule they had prior to the holiday break.
“We cannot in good conscience put the elementary students on that much screen time. It’s all in the best interest of our students. None of this is ideal, but we are doing our very best to eliminate those gaps. I think we’ve done a pretty good job at it,” he added.
Fry said as of Monday, the district has 35 individuals in quarantine based on either exposure or travel. There are two confirmed cases at the high school and two at the middle school. There are also three suspected cases of COVID-19 in the district. These numbers include both students and staff.
As of 3 p.m. Monday, the Cumberland-Perry Vo-Tech moved to an all-virtual instruction model due to the number of cases in the school, and the Lady Bulldog basketball teams were forced to suspend practice and games due to a positive case.
He said the reported percentages of community spread are slowly decreasing in much of the district’s area, except in Franklin County where numbers continue to increase.
Fry also noted the district may be able to offer vaccines to its teachers and staff as soon as the end of this month. He added with the new variant of the coronavirus that is now in several states, including Pennsylvania, they have seen what it can do in terms of communicability, and “that scares us.” However, the district administration is in constant contact with sources they trust to keep the community as informed as possible during the pandemic.
The district’s health and safety plan will likely need to be revisited once all students return to in-person instruction due to the lack of social distancing in buildings.
“I will do another video update for the community this week. We need patience and grace, just like when we started this thing. We are learning from this, but we are also growing from it. There will have to be some sacrifices with our health and safety plan. We can’t bring all of the students back and stay properly distanced. I think we are in as good a place as we can be.”
Fry also suggested that the board postpone voting on next year’s school calendar because of all of the uncertainties.
“We typically vote on the calendar by February so families can plan vacations. However, we are going to hold on that. It’s silly for us to set a start date right now without having a clear vision of what that will be,” he said. “I think we need to wait as far into April as we can. It’s silly to develop a calendar and have to do it all over again. We just need some patience on this.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kevin Roberts noted since the district shifted to an all-virtual format prior to winter break, it was able to control the spread of the virus in its buildings.
“At this point, it did what we were hoping it would do, and we are at a great spot,” he added.