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RISD: Community has role in hybrid model’s success

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As Roswell school board members discussed the requirements for moving into the hybrid mode of learning for the remainder of the year, administrators repeatedly emphasized the community has a role in making the model work.

A letter distributed to the community by Roswell Independent School District on Wednesday gave a target date of Feb. 16 as the first day for the hybrid model, starting with elementary classes and then opening in phases through the week of Feb. 22.

The board voted 5-0 Tuesday night for RISD schools to move to the hybrid model of learning, where half of the students will be in classrooms two days a week and remote learning for three days.

The move came after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in her Jan. 26 State of the State address that all schools, no matter what risk level their counties are in, could open to the hybrid model starting Feb. 8.

RISD Superintendent Mike Gottlieb notified the Public Education Department of the board’s decision immediately after the meeting and said Wednesday he has been in contact with the department about scheduling the required building inspections.

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Each school must receive a certificate of readiness after inspection by a fire marshal before being allowed to move into the hybrid model. Gottlieb said it will take about two weeks to schedule and complete the inspections.

According to the letter sent Wednesday by RISD, students will be divided alphabetically into two groups, A and B. The A group will be in classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays. The B group will be in classes Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays, school buildings will be cleaned and all students will be in remote learning.

With Monday, Feb. 15 being the President’s Day holiday, elementary students in the A group will start Feb. 16. Group B elementary students will have in-person learning Feb. 18 and 19.

Sixth- and ninth-grade students, who have not yet been in buildings new to them, will have in-person learning on Feb. 18 for the A group and Feb. 19 for the B group.

The remainder of the secondary grades will start hybrid learning the week of Feb. 22.

Gottlieb and other members of the administration outlined the requirements from the PED that the district and its schools would have to meet in the special meeting Tuesday that lasted more than three hours.

While the district has been working on meeting those requirements since August when the PED first issued its reopening guidelines, Gottlieb said there was much yet to be done.

“Has everything been done to this date? Absolutely not because we have to see how the board is going to vote,” he said.

Throughout his presentation, Gottlieb mentioned details that had to wait for the board’s decision, such as how schools will move students to and from different activities such as recess, lunch and classes while following the state’s guidelines.

While those plans will generally be the same throughout the district, some school-specific plans might be needed, he said.

“Everything is happening at light speed right now. Everyone is trying to move together,” said Chad Cole, assistant superintendent for finance and operations. Cole and other members of the administration met with representatives of the teachers’ union Tuesday morning to work out an agreement that included child supervision for staff members’ children and pay for extra duty assignments required to meet the guidelines.

Gottlieb talked in detail about the safety precautions the district has or is putting into place, such as air filtration systems, signage to remind staff and students about COVID-19 safety practices, and how students will board and disembark buses and enter the buildings.

The public will also have a role in those practices, he said.

“We must get everyone to understand, everyone in our community, they need to wash their hands and they need to do that constantly. They must maintain social distance and they have to wear a mask,” he said.

If a school has four or more COVID-19 cases among students or staff in a two-week period, the PED will order the school closed and students will return to remote learning for that time, Gottlieb said.

“Expect some rolling. This will happen. We don’t have a choice in this,” Gottlieb said.

Katie McClain, RISD nursing supervisor, also emphasized parents should keep their children home at any sign of illness, and staff members should do the same.

“The success of hybrid will really be dependent on parents and staff members making that decision if their student or they as an employee are not feeling well, we really need them to stay home, even if they assume it’s allergies,” she said.

“One day of them staying home and getting clarification from a doctor or getting looked at can make the difference in closing a whole building,” she said.

Not everyone was in favor of opening the schools. During the public comments portion of the meeting and speaking on the phone, Lynette Jordan, a fourth-grade teacher at Valley View Elementary School, asked the board to delay the decision to further review studies and get community input.

“Where are the research-based, peer-review studies? Since when do schools and districts take action on ‘It sounds like a good idea?’” she said.

“There has been no invitation to discuss or review the implications of educating or trying to educate our children in this hybrid model,” she said, adding that she believes remote learning is now working well.

“Has it been challenging? Of course. Difficult? For everyone, but it’s finally getting easier. Students know their routines, they know their expectations, they know what to do and I know what to do,” she said.

But in his presentation later in the evening, Gottlieb said there is no substitute for in-person learning.

“No matter how good we are online, it’s not the same. It does not develop the connection with our students,” he said.

“We also know in-person learning supports students’ social-emotional wellbeing. We’re trying now. We’re not doing the job that we should be, I’ll be quite honest,” he said.

Gottlieb also said he had shared with the board some of the latest research on opening schools and COVID-19.

And although Gottlieb said he was a “rules follower,” he also expressed some frustration with the process of reopening the schools, telling board members they have “lost a lot of your rights as a board.”

“This is the concern I have for school boards, this is the concern I have for government. You represent the people of the Roswell Independent School District. You should be setting up our guidelines. The guidelines were given to you, you have to do this,” he said.

“Now, would they have been any different? Probably not. But I see that as an eroding of authority,” he said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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