SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The countdown for the Sioux Falls School District’s Fall 2020 semester is on.
On Monday, the district announced preliminary “Return to Learn” plans for the 2020-21 school year. Right now, schools are planning to open as scheduled on Thursday, Aug. 27. However, school district leaders are asking students, staff and the community to be “flexible.”
“The primary concern is safety. We want to do that as best as we possibly can. Our students come first and foremost along with staff,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jamie Nold told KELOLAND News Wednesday. “When you keep that in mind, when something comes up, we have to pivot and change to something quickly.”
For the 2020-21 school year, the district announced three different methods of “education delivery.” The three plans are Traditional, Modified and Remote, which the district defined:
- Traditional Delivery – teachers and students maintain a normal daily schedule in classrooms, with modifications to space and practices
- Modified Delivery – a variety of educational models may be used in response to an increase number of COVID cases
- Remote Delivery – instruction is provided off-campus through technology or learning packets
“Each one of those is vital,” Nold said, adding each day and each situation will dictate which method is used for which school. “We look at it as a pivot. We need to be able to pivot very quickly. As we saw this year, things could close in a moment’s notice.”
School leaders said health and safety information will dictate which will be used for ongoing education. It is very likely most schools will be using one model, while other schools will be using another model because of a need to clean facilities after a positive case of COVID-19.
Communicating the model to be used and when to students, parents and staff will be critical, Nold said, adding multiple languages and multiple methods will be needed.
“We need to plan ahead and part of that plan is communication. There’s a specific group that’ll work with communication to parents,” Nold said. “We are really going to clean up those plans and communicate that out.”
Nold said the traditional method is the one schools are hoping to start with and use the most.
“There’s a lot of safety protocols still put in place because we want to make sure our kids are safe,” Nold said about the traditional method. “For the most part, the kids will go through a traditional model of learning where they are going to be in the classrooms with teachers. There’ll be some more in depth cleaning, not sharing some utensils or some things we don’t do to keep it a more safe environment.”
Nold said the modified method of learning will take officials the most work to figure out and define.
“We got to figure out what are some things that our community would accept and adapt,” Nold said, pointing to reducing class sizes and a variety of class scheduling options. “There’s so many options. There’s much planning and discussion that will take place so we can right now switch to this for this reason.”
Nold agreed “nothing is off the table” when it comes to implementing measures in the modified delivery.
“Everything is on the table to be discussed,” Nold said. “We’re going to take that and whittle it down to what is practical for the community and for our students.”
Nold said both staff and students will need to be prepared before the start of school to know what the school district wants from remote learning.
“When we say we are going to go to remote learning, they know exactly what that means and what they’re prepared to do,” Nold said.
The change to remote learning impacts numerous other aspects of schools people usually don’t think about such as food service, transportation and custodial staff, Nold said.
He emphasized administrators, teachers and other staff are working hard to put the framework in place throughout the month of June. Nold said the goal is to allow any professional development to implement measures to take place in July and early August.
“We have a whole group working on just the technology piece,” Nold said. “We’re going to get that setup in conjunction with curriculum. … We need to get those plans in place and vet those plans with our community and vet those plans with our staff and get some of that feedback.”
Nold said incoming Superintendent Dr. Jane Stavem has been working with the school district and helping guide plans. Stavem will replace Dr. Brian Maher as the SFSD Superintendent officially on July 1.
“She has definitely been involved; Dr. Maher has been extensively involved as well. Both of those two individuals have helped us immensely in preparing to get this plan in motion,” Nold said.
Seeking backup plans
To help curb the spread of COVID-19 in school settings, leaders are asking families to develop various plans in advance for when modified schedules or remote learning need to be used. School leaders said these plans should be similar to when early dismissals or school closures are announced because of winter storms.
“Please use the summer to develop your plans and inform your student(s) – relying on family, friends, and neighbors to support you, if needed,” the statement said.
Nold said parents need to have backup plans in place and he emphasized district officials realize how much scheduling decisions impact parents and families.
“That’s going to be a key piece and we appreciated the grace people have shown us,” Nold said.
For students with existing medical conditions that don’t allow safe return to school, schools plan to find ways to work with them. The SFDS said it will do its best to clearly communicate when scheduled changes are needed.
Nold said the school district will also start to learn how “the big picture” will look by how various summer school and summer school activities work.