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Abby schools to offer three options for classes

By Ross Pattermann

Abbotsford parents will have their choice of three options for the upcoming school year: virtual learning, face-to-face instruction or a blended approach of the two. This was the decision made by members of the school board during their monthly meeting on Monday “We are prepared to open on Sept. 1 in some capacity” superintendent Sherry Baker said. “With the caveat that tomorrow might bring us a different set of circumstances, and we have to adapt to them. This is a project that is fueled by the changing landscape of COVID-19.”

The three-platform plan approved by the board takes into account the needs and desires of staff and community members, she said.

The first option is face-to-face instruction for four days a week, excluding Wednesdays, when schools will be closed to students to allow for a deep clean of the buildings. Baker stressed that Wednesday will not be a day off from school, with staff present in their classrooms and students required to log in and attend

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The second option is a blended approach where students would come twice a week, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. Online learning would be done the remaining days.

The final option is virtual-only learning for those parents who do not want their students in the buildings.

Baker said the district had taken input from staff, health officials, and other experts to create a plan that meets the needs of everybody.

“I think the right thing to do is meet the needs of our community,” she said. “So, we are proposing that we have three learning platforms in the fall.”

To gain information on the needs and wants of the community, the board sent out an online survey prior to Monday’s meeting, and Baker shared those findings with the board.

According to the results of a district wide survey, 59 percent of families were in favor of a return to majority faceto- face instruction while 26 percent of those surveyed preferred the blended approach. Another 12 percent were in favor of entirely virtual instruction. This plan would remain in place on a quarter-by -quarter basis.

The survey further revealed that 87 percent of families in Abbotsford had access to the internet, and Baker said the district would be in touch with those who need more reliable access.

On the matter of transportation, the survey showed that 64 percent of students do not ride bus, which will make social distancing easier, though Burnett Transit will mandate students wear masks while in transit to school.

Among the staff that answered the survey, 32 percent preferred face to face; 51 were in favor of the blended approach while 17 percent wanted virtual only. On the matter of masks, 47 percent of staff wanted masks required, while 53 percent wanted them recommended. Also, 50 percent want some form of PPE (personal protective equipment).

If the percentages of students in the school align with the numbers on the survey, Baker is confident that Abbotsford can successfully implement its threeplatform learning option.

With the three platform option, the school would only be filled to two-thirds capacity, and to minimize traffic in the hallways, some parts of high school could be switched to block scheduling. Baker also said there would be a team of four staff who are going to be paid to sit down with families and children and help them in choosing the proper learning platform.

Baker was quick to say that things could quickly change, that some parents might change their mind, and that not everyone would be pleased with the district’s plans, or the board’s actions, but she said they are doing everything in their power to supply a safe environment conducive to learning.

“I’ll be completely transparent: We do not have all the answers, but we will not grow weary in searching for them because parents are entrusting their children to us,” she said.

“We have to make sure they are safe. Staff are entrusting their professional lives,” she said. “We have to make sure they are safe.”

Like many districts across the state, Abbotsford has found itself wrestling with how best to serve the needs of its students while at the same time mitigating the risks of exposing staff and students to COVID-19.

Baker praised the district’s teaching staff for their ability to come together quickly on such short notice during the opening weeks of the pandemic in March and into the final months of the 2019-20 academic school year. She said some students flourished under this model, especially if they had reliable internet access and a strong support system.

However, with some households having limited access to the internet, a virtualonly instruction model was not beneficial for all students.

Baker conceded that COVID-19 cases were flaring up, with 80 percent of the state, including Clark and Marathon counties, considered high risk.

“It affects every aspect of what we are doing,” Baker said in reference to the pandemic. “The good news is that we are moving ahead together or not at all. Those surveys I took you through with parents and guardians responding, speak volumes.”