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District points at state for hybrid model

T-R FILE PHOTO Marshalltown High School students will experience a hybrid Return to Learn model during the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. The plan was approved by the school board on Monday.

The approval of the Return to Learn hybrid model put into place for Marshalltown High School and Miller Middle School came as a surprise to some parents in the district on Monday.

Even though the hybrid model was presented as an option to the Marshalltown Community School Board in July — along with on-site and virtual learning models — the hybrid was not recommended. However, Director of Instruction Lisa Stevenson said district administration officials had to quickly alter the recommendations after Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on Thursday.

Reynolds said school districts cannot close or engage in primary virtual learning unless 10 percent of the student population is absent or if there is a 20 percent rate of infection among county residents.

“We were definitely sharing the non-hybrid model prior to her announcement on Thursday,” Stevenson said. “That afternoon we were given some infographics sharing the different levels of response.”

The levels and recommendations, provided by the Iowa Department of Education are:

• None to minimal: 0 to 5 percent positivity in a county for 14 days; schools should engage in on-site learning and hybrid learning based on preferences and student quarantine

• Minimal to moderate: 6 to 14 percent; on-site and hybrid learning

• Substantial controlled: 15 to 20 percent; hybrid learning and remote learning for up to 14 days

• Substantial uncontrolled: more than 20 percent; remote learning for up to 14 days.

“We had a conversation on Friday and figured out we fell into the range of more than 15 percent,” Stevenson said. “We needed to be cognizant — especially of the middle school and high school.”

The hybrid model presented to the board, and approved, on Monday consists of dividing the middle and high school students in half. On Mondays and Tuesdays, 50 percent of the student population will be in class and the other half will learn online at home. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the 50 percent who learned at home earlier in the week would attend class on site, and the other half will switch to online education. The rotation will continue for nine weeks and then will be evaluated.

“We are hopeful the health conditions will get better and we will get all students back to classrooms,” Stevenson said.

How it works

The online learning platform selected for students in grades six-12 is Edmentum. It will be used for the hybrid model and for students who will only engage in virtual learning.

Stevenson said district staff are narrowing down the course catalog for students to choose from. For example, even though Edmentum offers more than 300 courses, such as German and forensics, MCSD does not have instructors for those subjects, so they will not be available.

“Counselors will look at the classes and match courses with Edmentum,” she said.

While half of their classmates will be in class, the ones learning at home on a given day will not be provided an exact schedule to follow. Stevenson said students could do their work later in the evening, or knock out two days of education in one.

However, she said having a schedule at home will be beneficial to the students.

“They thrive on routine and consistency,” Stevenson said. “Anything the parents can do — set times for work, sleep, school, eating meals at regular times — will help out in the long run.”

Students will be graded for their online work. Records will be kept of time logged into programs, work will have to be submitted on time and grades will be given.

“Attendance will be taken, grades will be assessed. There are a lot higher stakes involved this time,” Stevenson said.

She said teachers will create weekly lesson plans for on-site and online learning. What is taught in the classroom will be provided online. Stevenson said perhaps instructors will record lessons of themselves teaching or giving a lecture. Those can be given to the students at home. Then, when students return to the classroom later in the week, they will be on the same page as the rest of the class.

“The idea is the kids come back to school with their work completed,” she said. “It is an ongoing cycle — what the kids do here and what they do at home and it just repeats.”

Stevenson said students should be able to build a certain level of independence and learn time management skills — similar to what they need when they graduate high school and go to college or join the work force.

Parents with questions

There are still a lot of unknowns regarding the 2020-21 MCSD school year.

Stevenson said 3,200 students out of more than 5,000 have responded with intentions of returning to school on-site or virtually.

Families who have not indicated how children will attend have until Wednesday to decide. If a decision is not made, those children will be enrolled in on-site learning.

“We shared the first survey on July 20,” Stevenson said. “It has been out there for a couple weeks.”

Some of the nuanced questions she said parents have were regarding students in dual language courses, those in gifted and talented or special education and about lunches. Stevenson said the district is taking all of those aspects of education into consideration.

“We do not want this to be the lever for someone to choose a certain format because their son or daughter is in a certain program,” she said. “We have tried to think of the magnitude of all things we offer as a school system and we are offering a safe education, no matter what format a parent chooses.”

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Contact Lana Bradstream

at 641-753-6611 or

lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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