NORFOLK — A plan to dismiss Norwood-Norfolk Elementary School students early every Wednesday was put on hold after concerns were raised by Board of Education and community members, illuminating mounting concerns parents and teachers alike share as they prepare to go back to school next week.
Elementary school students have five days of in-person instruction in 2020-21, but no time for teachers to collaborate. With early dismissal at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, they would have that collaboration time.
Superintendent James Cruikshank said the early dismissal was a recommendation from administrators, and Wednesday was selected because that’s the day when middle and high school students are all learning remotely from home.
The last-minute change, which was not part of the original reopening plan, has been a concern for board members and parents, board President Artie Fregoe said.
“Over the weekend, I received enough calls with concerns over the change in the plan that I thought it would be best if we talked about it,” he said during a special meeting on Thursday. “That was a concern I was hearing from some of the board members and the public that I talked to.”
Chief among the concerns was a lack of child day care, with six children for every one slot in the county. That led school officials to make a decision to bring back all elementary school students when school resumes on Tuesday.
Mr. Fregoe said some parents already had difficulties with occasional early dismissals for events like staff development. He said early dismissal every week “has to be disruptive to a lot of our parents,” some who don’t have an older child at home to watch the younger student.
“This was a major change that was made and we had zero discussion on it. I think that’s where a lot of the frustration is coming from. I can’t believe it never came up in the Reopening Committee,” he said.
Other board members said they were confused because the lack of child care was one of the drivers that led them to bring all elementary school students back starting Tuesday.
“We know that’s paramount. When we started the planning process, we were planning something that’s never been done. We were planning and didn’t know what we would run into,” Mr. Cruikshank said.
Now, he said, they’ve run into the issue of providing time for elementary school teachers to collaborate.
“We kept running into the issue. There was no opportunity for our elementary teachers to collaborate. We didn’t have a solution. Do we think this is this a good solution? I don’t think any of us does.
“Everything in this packet is changeable. We don’t have to go with this. We didn’t have another solution. That’s where I’m at. Public Health just pulled their guidance out. They’re coming out with new guidance. This whole thing could change tomorrow,” he said.
After hearing the concerns, Mr. Cruikshank said they would delay the early dismissal. Instead, they would set another date to possibly implement it, survey parents and have a plan for parents who have no child care options.
“I will tell you that many of the parents will just opt for an after-school program. That’s what we see,” he said. “Let me come back with some options. I’m going to change the verbiage. We’re not doing this right now.”
In another change, Mr. Cruikshank said they’ve confirmed that enough additional classroom space would be available and they could limit bus and lunchroom congestion enough that they will be able to bring back fifth- and sixth-grade students four days a week, with Wednesday as a remote day.
The original plan was to bring back all fifth-graders in addition to the elementary students, and the remainder of the students would be on an A or B schedule with remote learning either Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, or Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.