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Focus on Student Safety and Continuity of Education Drive Decision Toward Starting School Year With Distance Learning-Only Model

With the new school year rapidly approaching, the North Beach Board of Directors and Superintendent Andrew Kelly, along with staff and community constituents, have worked diligently to develop a plan for re-opening school in the fall, with all students on campus at least part of the time.

Most recently, the school board met Tuesday, July 21, in a ZOOM board meeting with over 60 in attendance to discuss options for re-opening. During that meeting, Superintendent Kelly shared that re-opening North Beach School District on an entirely distance or remote basis may ultimately be the best option.

“When we look realistically at the variety of factors involved, it has become obvious that our very best chance of ensuring the safety of our students and staff -- and providing instruction with the fewest possible interruptions -- is to move to a full distance/remote learning model for the start of the 2020-2021 school year,” Kelly explains.

He described what reopening school in the current environment could look like: In the best of scenarios, daily screening of students as required by the state will mean a number of them being sent home for symptoms that may be COVID-19, or some lesser virus.

Due the unavailability of rapid-result COVID tests, school personnel won’t know the true cause of a child or staff person’s symptoms in a time frame to make a sound medical sound decision about short-term closures to protect staff and other students.

If and when COVID-19 cases are diagnosed among the school population, whole classrooms or schools could be quarantined for up to 14 days per experience. If members of the staff are home due to an illness, a substitute must be found, yet many substitutes are retirees who are most vulnerable to the worst impacts of COVID-19.

“Given this scenario, we must turn our focus, time and energy to creating a world class district that empowers our teachers and classified employees to master distance learning,” Kelly continues, adding, “We are keenly aware of the challenges that distance learning places on families. This is not our preferred way to return to school. We want our scholars back in class.” 

Teachers in North Beach and across the state were thrust into distance learning last Spring when COVID-19 became part of our new reality. Teachers and classified staff did their best, with almost no preparation, to flip the switch overnight, and move into a “distance learning” environment.

Kelly added that the decision is not an easy one for the school board, nor for him. “We recognize this is not a perfect solution, particularly for parents who must work, and for families with unique needs, including special education services, English language learners, students experiencing homelessness and other challenges that this pandemic has only served to exacerbate. We will continue to innovate to serve all students.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has asked school districts to consider a variety of factors related to the impact of not bringing students back to the school building, before making the decision to move to distance learning. North Beach School District is in the process of doing so, with staff focusing on how to provide distance instruction in the most effective way possible, how to make sure children have healthy meals and supervision when not in school.

Kelly adds that although the final decision has not yet been made, the district is in a much better position to provide a more robust and accessible remote/distance learning model for the 2020-21 school year. The district has made investments in providing training to staff, with more to come, and in obtaining updated devices and online-friendly curriculum for students.

The North Beach Education Association has noted it supports a distance-learning plan for starting school in the fall. “Our entire team of educators in North Beach is excited to welcome our students back to school, for face to face instruction,” the NBEA Co-Presidents commented, “but we can only do so when it is safe.”

Board President Jane Harnagy concluded, “Our staff and teachers have been preparing for the possibility of online learning.  I know many will be disappointed we might not be back just yet, but students will be able to engage with the teachers they know, and who know them, in a way that will keep them learning and keep our student and family community connected.”

North Beach schools will be conducting personal phone interviews with every family in the next two weeks to ascertain what specific resources and support they will need to make distance learning successful to start 20-21.

The district’s “Transformation Team” will be focused on refining and improving a robust distance learning format to ensure that every scholar will be able to #riseABOVEtheTIDE

“The need to provide additional, differentiated supports for our most fragile students is imperative,” Kelly committed. “We will work with our students with significant, social, emotional, and academic needs to develop plans on a case by case basis to ensure they have the resources necessary to thrive.”