A schedule for the school day

Ann Gill

At its past two meetings the Unit 1 Board of Education has talked about modifications to its Return to School Plan, particularly if additional time should be added to the school day.
The plan was put in place as a guideline for educating students in the midst of a pandemic, and over the past few weeks the administrators and committee members who developed the plan have been analyzing the document with regard to what is working well and what can be improved upon.
Unit 1 Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg said there have been some discussions at the board level about the potential of having students in class a little longer during the school day and at what time does the district move forward on that.
Initial discussions started before the second wave of COVID-19 infections that have impacted the school in recent days.
The good news, as Bugg noted, there is no evidence of virus transmission involving district students and staff occuring within the school buildings.
“I think our mitigation strategies at school are working,” said Bugg.
School day mitigations include the use of face coverings, social distancing when possible, health checks and enhanced cleaning and sanitation.
Even with all the precautions, there’s a problem with the plan of spending more in-person time on studies.
The problem, Bugg said, comes down to staffing. In a single day he had 34 staff members out for legitimate reasons—COVID symptoms or kids in the house with symptoms. Per the plan, anyone testing positive for the virus, experiencing symptoms of COVID, been exposed to or living in the same household as someone exhibiting symptoms is excluded for a minimum of 10 to 14 days.
Due to the exclusion rules the district has found itself short on staff.
“The schedule we are on right now allows our teachers some release time in the morning and we’re able to use them to internally substitute. If we were to change that and loose that time I can’t staff the buildings anymore, I don’t have the people to staff the buildings,” the superintendent told the Board of Education.
“We are struggling in terms of staff the buildings right now,” he said, noting building level administrators have also been taking shifts in the classroom when needed.
While it is not to a point where the district cannot staff buildings, if the schedule was to change and the release time was gone, Bugg isn’t sure he would have the staff to cover.
“I think for right now we’re going to have to stay in a holding pattern in terms of schedule. Even if the [Teaching and Learning] committee came back and said we’d like to add that extra hour, I can’t do it right now and staff the buildings, there’s is just no way. I hope it changes down the road and we get through this second wave of COVID cases, but until then the schedule we are on now is going to have to stay the way it is,” Bugg said.
Currently students spend about four hours each morning in the classroom with an additional hour of remote learning taking place from home.
The decision to keep the school day schedule does not mean the district is going to stop reviewing the plan.
“There are changes to the plan that we need to make, but the length of the school day is not going to be one of them right now,” said Bugg.