WATERTOWN — With rising COVID-19 case numbers in Jefferson County and surrounding areas, modes of school instruction may need to change yet again amid the pandemic.
Though the Watertown City School District is currently operating with some students fully remote and others on hybrid models or attending five days a week, things may need to change in the future should case counts continue to spike.
“I think it’s really important that we (are) always prepared at any given time to go full remote if we need to,” said Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr during the district’s Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening. “... With the number of positive cases that we have that continue, we need to be realistic that at some point we may need to switch to a remote plan for everyone.”
For students who are already remote learning five days a week, their schedules will remain the same should the district switch to a fully remote mode of learning like in March. K-12 hybrid students only coming to school two days a week and learning remotely for the other three, as well as special education students coming in five days a week, would have to make more adjustments in the event the district goes remote.
Assistant Superintendent Stacey Eger Converse shared that in the event of hybrid students switching to fully remote learning, remote-only teachers in grades K-6 have been working hard to come up with a schedule that works for students and also is relatively easy to navigate, doesn’t maximize screen time, but also offers enough direct instruction, back and forth conversation and so forth throughout the day, allowing the students to feel like they have somebody they can go to for academics.
“While we’re still fine-tuning this and putting it out to staff for feedback and questions, our thought is that K-6 will have a very similar schedule across the board,” she said. “... We are thinking that students would begin their school day similarly, just in the home environment. They would still have purposeful play and we would walk through that, they would prepare for school, they would have a morning meeting with positivity project embedded, there would be time for direct instruction which would take place over Zoom, but obviously with breaks built in so the students are not sitting constantly.”
For 7-12, the district is working to maximize the direct teacher-to-student interactions should a switch to remote-only instruction take place. Knowing that interactions are already limited in the hybrid model, the district is looking to find ways to maximize them using the tools it has, such as Zoom.
Ms. LaBarr brought up one of the questions she regularly gets from community members regarding other school districts closing down after reporting their first few cases, while Watertown remains open.
“I think when you look at a district our size with 4,000 students and the staffing that we have, if you’re in a smaller district and you have the same positive cases, they can’t continue to move forward because they don’t have the staff to be able to do that,” Ms. LaBarr said. “So that is one of the major differences when you look at some of the outlying areas or for some of those districts across the state of New York.”
She noted the district is keeping an eye on where the positive cases are to see if there are any connections, mentioning the recent uptick in COVID cases in Lewis County surrounding a religious gathering, continuing to do due diligence in all aspects, stating that hopefully, the area will start to see those numbers come down in the community.
“We all need to continue to practice social distancing and wearing our masks and washing our hands,” Ms. LaBarr said. “We need everyone in this together to really do their due diligence, because we truly do not want to switch to that remote option. We know that that’s not always ideal for all of our students. So as a community, we need to kind of step up and really do everything that we’ve been told to do.”