The Lebanon Special School District plans to return students in grades 3-6 to a fully in-person class schedule on Monday, after phasing in students from pre-K to second grade earlier this month.
Nearly 500 students will remain in the district’s Virtual Academy, while its seventh and eighth graders are still on a hybrid model. The decision comes as LSSD reported no positive COVID-19 cases among students and two among staff over the course of last week.
“There’s no doubt if you have a hybrid classroom, which that means you have half of your students, that it’s much easier to social distance in that scenario,” LSSD Director of Schools Scott Benson said during Monday’s board meeting.
“We’ve been asked the question, why did start with our youngest students, bringing them back? Well, the medical professionals that are talking to us are in agreement that those are the students that are least vulnerable to COVID-19 … those are also the students that are most vulnerable when it comes to academics.”
LSSD Director of Teaching and Learning Pam Sampson said the hybrid model has proven both successful and challenging in different ways.
“Teachers have voiced that they have had success with having smaller groups in their classes,” she said. “And they’re able to really focus on those small groups that were within the room to be able to catch them up or fill those gaps that they’ve had, so that’s been a success with that.”
However, some of those students struggle on the days they spend learning from home, whether because of a weak connection, too much data usage or trouble operating their devices.
“We’ve provided our students with technology, but some parents are having a harder time dealing with that,” Sampson said. “’How do I connect my child?’ They may be frustrated, ‘we can’t understand how to do this.’ That has been a challenge for us, working with some of the parents to make sure that they can work with the technology they have at home. Some of our teachers, we’ve had to sit down and have sessions, how to set up your room.”
LSSD has also identified several students whose parents or guardians are unavailable during school hours.
“Especially our younger ones, there’s so many things that they need somebody to support them and they need somebody there to guide them,” Sampson said. “We’ve seen the challenge with that, the ones that aren’t getting work turned in because on the days they’re off there’s nobody there to help them. So we’re having to rely on the time that we have them here.”
Benson acknowledged that bringing more students back into the classrooms means the district will see more COVID-19 cases.
“You can look around the state, you can look around the mid-state, it is going to happen,” he said. “So we will continue to contact trace, we will continue to quarantine as directed by the health department, but it’s not going to magically go away tonight because we’re phasing in the schools.”
LSSD Assistant Director of Schools Becky Kegley said the district is monitoring people who have been exposed to the virus, tested positive or are showing symptoms. She said their procedure for responding is consistent with the health department’s guidelines.
“For example, the health department called me and said that they had a positive student,” she said, describing a case from Monday. “They can’t really tell you their name, we kind of have to narrow it down. Sometimes a parent will call and say my child is positive, but we immediately start looking into the situation.”
That involves finding out the last day the child was at school, when they were symptomatic and where they were throughout the day, including the bus system.
“Today, we had a student at one of our schools, Sam Houston,” Kegley said. “It was a fourth grade class, and we will be sending those students from that class home. The principal and nurses all made contacts to all people, and we had to look at activities and see if anybody had to be put out … we talk about all the things they did on the last day that child was here, when they would have been considered to be contagious.”
Kegley said she has been impressed with the district’s communication and response to the virus, and credits that for the low number of positive tests over the last few weeks.
“We had another situation today with an employee that’s positive, and her children are positive,” she said. “Because they went home very quickly after knowing they were exposed, there’s not one other person in that school today that had to be sent home even though there were two children and an employee.”