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At a special Washington School Board meeting Friday morning, Aug. 7, the board unanimously approved beginning the school year with Scenario 3 yellow of the district’s re-entry plan, which calls for all students to rotate in-person and virtual learning because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington School District is the only public school district in Franklin County to begin the year in this hybrid model.

Dr. Lori VanLeer recommended to the board that schools begin in Scenario 3 and remain there for four weeks, at which point officials plan to re-evaluate conditions. The plan covers kindergarten through grade 12.

The school district released a color-coded re-entry plan for the 2020-21 school year July 20. Under that plan, there are four scenarios: Scenario 1 green is in-school learning; Scenario 2 yellow is a hybrid model (in-school and virtual learning) for secondary students only with elementary remaining in school five days a week; Scenario 3 yellow is the hybrid model for kindergarten through grade 12; Scenario 4 red is virtual learning for kindergarten through grade 12. 

“It would not be a difficult transition to go from a yellow to a green, (and would) probably be a little bit more difficult to go from green to a yellow,” said VanLeer, adding the district has chosen to recommend this model (Scenario 3) due to the difficulty of social distancing in some of its buildings and grade levels. That inability is the reason it is recommending reducing the population size at school through the hybrid model.

“We looked at every piece of data to try to figure out how we could get in five days a week and recommend that to you without reservation, and we couldn’t get there,” VanLeer told the board. 

According to the learning plan released by the district, Scenario 3 will consist of a modified week for elementary and secondary schools, with two groups of in-person learning. E-Learning will take place all other days, with students whose last names begin with A through K being in Group A, and L through Z in Group B.

Group A will attend school in-person Mondays and Tuesdays, and do e-Learning Thursdays and Fridays, while Group B will do e-Learning Mondays and Tuesdays, and attend in-person Thursdays and Fridays.

Both groups will have e-Learning on Wednesdays.

The hybrid model calls for teachers to be in their classrooms every day, delivering instruction four days a week to students who are attending school that day.

The rationale for the A and B days model is it will provide teachers with two days of continuity with the same group of students, which will be especially helpful during lab settings, presentation work, project completion and direct instruction associated with more difficult concepts, according to the plan.

The model also will help keep groups of students together for safety purposes and will allow for more efficient contact tracing in situations where the school may be required to initiate quarantines due to close contact or COVID-19-positive cases.

District officials are working out issues with the model, including getting hotspot devices to students who have little to no access to internet. Out of the 2,269 students who have completed the entry paperwork so far, which is slightly over half of the student population, 36 of those have weak or no internet, and 234 use hotspots or dial-up. 

There are 1,705 students so far who are what the district calls green level, meaning their internet services should comply with the model.

“Every minute of every day will be focused on this until the first day of school,” VanLeer said.