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What will the first six weeks of school look like?: Appo board addresses decision to start classes virtually

Amanda Parrish
Middletown Transcript

ODESSA -- In less than two weeks, school will be back in session and students will be back behind a computer screen. The Appoquinimink Board of Education met Aug. 26 to discuss what this will look like.

Starting Sept. 8, schools will begin online for six weeks and students will be instructed through live and pre-recorded lessons and schedules varying by grade level.

At the start of the meeting, board President Richard Forsten emphasized the district making plans for virtual and hybrid learning was not the school’s choice. Under the guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Gov. John Carney, public schools cannot open full-time.

A 34-page “Returning to School” guidance was given to all districts to implement. Superintendent Matt Burrows said the district has to comply with the guidelines within them.

“Our goal is to get our students back to as normal as possible when it’s safe,” Burrows said.

The board of education voted Aug. 11 to start the school year virtually and shift to hybrid learning with a mix of in-person and online lessons Oct. 19, if it is safe to do so, but this decision did not make all parents happy.

During the Aug. 26 meeting, protests could be heard outside the Marion E. Proffitt Training Center chanting, “Let us choose.” Some parents want the option to send their children to school full-time. Forsten said they should be protesting outside the governor’s office because it was not the school’s choice.

“It is our absolute goal to come back full-time as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

The first six weeks of virtual learning are to allow the board time to make sure they are complying with state guidelines before allowing students in the buildings for hybrid learning. Forsten said they also need time to figure out which students will be in each cohort, based on which students are choosing the hybrid option.

When hybrid lessons begin, students will be assigned to cohorts and alternate between days in school and days online. Parents will have the option to opt out of in-person classes and continue remote learning if they have concerns regarding COVID-19.

A survey will be sent to parents closer to Oct. 19 for parents to choose between hybrid and virtual learning. Based on survey results from a summer survey, about 54% of parents prefer hybrid to remote.

Burrows said parents should be prepared to shift back to fully online if the pandemic worsens.

Virtual learning schedules

For preschool, the day will mirror a traditional in-person schedule from 9 a.m. to noon. Classes will meet live for all or most of the day, depending on what assignments are planned for the day. Teachers will have office hours for those who need extra help.

Kindergarten will run 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and students will split into morning and afternoon groups. Half the day would be spent with live instruction and the other half with “play-based learning opportunities” and recorded art activities.

Elementary schoolers will be online from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and have hour-and-a-half lessons for science and/or social studies, math and language arts. Designated times are scheduled for “movements breaks.”

Middle school will have live instruction from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with class times based on grade level.

High school will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. with 45-minute classes paired with 20 minutes of office hours.

Attendance for high school and middle school will be taken during each period. Preschool and elementary school will have it taken at the end of each day.