QPS works on plan for students to return to classroom for 2020-21 year

The Quincy School Board, meeting in person with masks and social distancing, weighed in Wednesday night with guidance for developing plans for students to return to classes for the start of the 2020-21 year.
H-W Photo/Deborah Gertz Husar
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 25, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY — Quincy Public Schools Superintendent Roy Webb expects to have a plan ready by early July to share with the community outlining a framework for students to return to classes for the start of the 2020-21 year.

"Everybody wants a traditional return with very few safety control measures," Webb said after Wednesday night's School Board meeting. "We're going to work on having a common sense approach and allowing what we can and also having some safety measures in place."

State guidance released this week strongly encourages in-person instruction provided districts require wearing masks and social distancing whenever possible, screen anyone entering school buildings, increase schoolwide cleaning and disinfection and prohibit more than 50 people from gathering in one space.

The QPS leadership team begins work Thursday to finish a plan to meet guidelines making both education and safety a priority.

"Almost every conceivable thing has to be rethought by our teachers and staff going into next year," he said. "It will cost our district a significant amount of time, a significant amount of money and talent. We're going to lose people because this is not what individuals signed up for."

Plans will be different for the early childhood, elementary, junior high and high school buildings and will be reviewed by the Adams County Health Department.

School Board members weighed in on Wednesday with guidance for developing the plans, ranging from making communication the top priority and maintaining the district's ability to pivot throughout the school year.

"This plan could be completely put together, and we could feel good about it, then the next day we could have another spike in cases in a certain school, a certain classroom, and we're going to have to adjust the plan," Webb said. "That ability to adapt, the ability to change will be critical. It's going to be quite a ride for six months to a year."

Board members want to see the district make in-person every day learning a priority for younger children but look at blended learning -- combining in-person and remote classes -- for older students.

Board member Jim Whitfield said, "I don't want to see high school kids fall through the cracks. A lot of kids need that in-person instruction."

Webb said district leaders hope to have help in the planning process from QPS staff and from district parents and guardians.

A future planning survey for staff, due Friday, asks questions about basic needs, the remote learning plan and expectations, teaching and learning, connectedness and communication, planning for the coming school year, including resources to feel safe returning to school and equity.

A parent/caregiver reflection survey, due Tuesday, seeks information on basic needs of students, communication and expectations, and student learning, including what resources/procedures are needed to feel safe sending a child back to school.

More than 1,500 parents already have responded to the survey, with many concerned about the feasibility of students of any age wearing masks. Face shields could be one alternative to masks -- and Webb said they will be used for some staff members including teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing where it's critical for students to see the teacher's mouth.

Board member Shelley Arns urged Webb to take the survey feedback into consideration in deciding the plan.

"The most important thing when you ask for input is that you listen. Whether it's feasible or not, they know you heard it, considered it, weighed it when making plans," Arns said.

Just as important, board members said, is keeping in mind the mental, physical and emotional well-being of staff while continuing to take care of student needs.

Board President Sayeed Ali said, "This is something we've never dealt with. If there could be a little patience, a little understanding while our leadership team is putting together those plans, it would be much appreciated. It's hard to be patient when you want to know exactly what's going to happen in the fall -- that's how I feel -- but with 6,700 students and 1,000 employees, I think some patience will really help us out."