On Aug. 20, more than 1,000 people attended the Port Washington School District’s virtual community forum to hear the district’s newly amended reopening plans for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. Under the amended plans, parents will have a choice of only two models of instruction, hybrid learning (three days virtual, two days in person) or a fully virtual instruction. As of publication, the district will not be offering a five-day in person plan, despite community disapproval.
“Part of my job and a huge responsibility that I have is to listen to the community and our staff as far as what their concerns are,” Dr. Hynes superintendent of schools said. “Over the past several days I have had multiple meetings with our staff members regarding our all in plan. When we went back and reviewed the plan and the impact of all the students at the same time, the concerns that were brought to my attention, I believe warranted us to pivot to the hybrid plan, which focuses on what’s best for kids.”
Although parents were not permitted to speak at the meeting, due to the large audience and virtual format, many from the school community took to social media to voice their concerns.
“Based on the facts that were given during the meeting, this district simply cannot follow the mandates based on DOH while physically accommodating 100 percent full time in person attendance,” resident Pamela Masters said. “The BOE explained all of this in the meeting, and parents would be wise to take the time to watch the recorded meeting and educate themselves with actual facts.”
In a poll created by resident and public school teacher Adam Paltrowitz, which asked parents if they were in favor of offering a fully in-person instruction model for the elementary school students (K-5), 15 to 1 voted in favor of the in-person option.
“Regarding this elementary change, I am disgusted by what I watched on the livestream,” Paltrowitz said. “As the parent of a kindergarten, it will now be the job of the parent to teach our kids three days a week. Distance learning at an upper grade could possibly be effective without parent involvement, but at the kindergarten level, the parent does all of the work. Shame on this district. COVID is real, no doubt, but so is stunting the social, emotional [and] academic growth of our youngest children by keeping them at home, away from other children and a certified teacher. Fear is leading this district. They listened to the loud minority instead of the actual data they received from the community.”
Many residents were surprised with the district’s sudden decision to remove in person learning, calling it a “betrayal to their children.”
“They should be in school, five days a week,” Josh Goldstein said. “To choose two days a week is ludicrous. Three days in front of an iPad when doctors say it is bad for their eyes, to take away social interaction is disgraceful. These children should be in school full time. We are doing damage that cannot be reversed. Adults have failed our children.”
Since the community comments were eliminated from the meeting, the Port Washington Teachers Association (PWTA) addressed the community in a letter, which they posted to Facebook.
“We acknowledge that we are in very unusual times and there is no perfect solution,” Regina McLean, President of the PWTA said in the letter. “But, as professionals, we believe that the District’s plan for live streaming will not work. We are calling on you, members of the community, to trust us when we say that the District’s plan for the students who choose to stay at home is educationally unsound. Our students need and deserve better.”
For the hybrid model, students will be divided into small groups, remaining socially distant during instruction. They would be required to attend school two days a week and the remaining three days, students would receive instruction through Google Classroom and/or livestreaming. To alleviate the burden on parents, the district purchased iPads and Google Chromebooks for every student in the district.
The virtual model will consist of a combination of synchronous instruction through Google Meet or Zoom and asynchronous instruction using Google Classroom. Students will be able to opt into blended learning on a monthly basis, if they choose to. Learning will be consist of whole group, small group, independent instruction as well as project based work. Fully remote students will be assigned to a regular classroom, and will follow the cohort (blue group or white group). Three periods of instruction will also be offered via livestream.
Weber Middle School
Students attending Weber Middle School will follow their regular schedules, whether in school or at home on every day of the week but Wednesday. Wednesdays will be reserved as a contact time for teachers and mental health staff to address the instructional, social, emotional and academic support of the students without interfering with their learning schedules.
Remote sessions will be approximately 30 minutes long, as opposed to in-person lessons which will be 45 minutes. The district states that the shorter classes for remote students is “to reduce screen time at home, while keeping instructional integrity.” The district will be creating student pods, which consist of a number of students grouped together to limit the amount of movement in the building throughout the day.
If necessary, the hybrid model could transition to an all virtual model and students and their teachers would remain in the same pods and would continue to be taught live. If a student gets sick, they would have the option of attending three virtual days through Google Classroom, and the additional two days through live instruction. Lunch will be in the classroom every day, and recess will take place outdoors whenever possible. Art, library and PEP/ESTEAM enrichment and classroom music will be held in the classroom and band/orchestra and physical education will be held outdoors as the weather permits.
Schreiber High School
Students attending Schreiber High School will be on a six day cycle (A-F) with the school day taking place from 8:05 to 3:05 for both in person and fully remote students. Each course will take place for one hour, with 30 minutes for lunch and five minutes between each class. Students will be pulled out of class for live music sectionals, mandated counseling or any other reason they may need. Assistant principals will hold weekly check-in sessions with 10 students and social workers will be on board to discuss issues at an individual and group level.
The district stated that they had looked at the option of bringing back all high school students, but the capacity of each classroom poses a challenge. If the district had decided to bring back all students full time, they would have had to scale back on the number of courses that exceed 14 students, such as senior English electives, AP environmental science and AP government.
“The only way to meet the requirements of classroom capacity at 6 feet distance is to cut the grade levels in hald or almost in half,” the district states.
According to the timeline, the opt out deadline for the virtual learning plan will be on Friday, Aug. 28 and class assignments will be sent out on Sept. 2 and 3. School will now start for all students in the Port Washington School District on Sept. 8. Those who have questions or concerns can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the meeting, the School District has amended their plans to include a fully in-person five day model by Oct. 5.
“After an internal assessment of our individual building capacities was performed, it was determined that all of our elementary students could return, while remaining in compliance with all health and safety-related guidelines, by using many of our non-instructional spaces as classrooms and lowering class sizes,” Dr. Hynes said in a statement to the Port Washington News. “With that determination, working with our principals and central administration, we developed a five-day in-person instructional plan within these constraints which included a phased-in reopening at our elementary schools to ensure the safety of students and staff. We then shared this plan with the Port Washington Teacher Association leadership and elementary teachers. Due to the considerable pushback we received directly from the PWTA leadership and some teachers, we had no choice but to pivot to a hybrid model for our elementary schools reopening. However, we are committed to bringing our elementary students back in school five days a week. Towards that end, we have reconvened our instructional task force and elementary building protocols task force to work with PWTA leadership, our elementary principals and teachers to develop plans that will allow us to return to a five-day program. We have set Oct. 5 as the hard deadline to reach this solution. ”