BISBEE — While online and hybrid classes of students attending in person school two days a week and two days at home seemed to be a reasonable answer to controlling the spread of COVID-19, Bisbee Unified School District principals reported those at home days are not as productive as hoped.

During the Oct. 13 meeting of the BUSD board, the principals explained there were problems with students’ attendance and turning in completed assignments.

Elementary school students in particular are having a difficult time with online learning.

Some of the problems are due to not just lack of Chromebooks for students, but also lack of knowledge of using the ones that were signed out. Though teachers are doing their best to help students along, the learning curve has made things difficult.

As BUSD Superintendent Tom Woody pointed out, there also is bandwidth issues for families who have more than one or two children trying to participate online.

He said. “Many of the activities and lessons that were successful in previous years do not translate as well into the hybrid format. We are all still learning strategies and techniques, and the amount of collaboration amongst staff has been incredible. There also are concerns with academic integrity when students are participating in remote learning.

“Teachers have expressed that due to inequities in access to internet and devices, some students are completing classwork and formative assessments with the teacher unable to monitor the testing environment properly. Students attending in person are doing better academically than online students.”

Sometimes it is difficult for a student to find a quiet workspace to attend online school and there are distractions, he said.

Woody added, “Online learning has not been successful for many special education and English Language learners.”

Though all three schools allow four–day in-person classes, Greenway principal Lindsay Vertrees says the overflow of students is creating stress on the learning lab daily.

She has 76 students learning remotely and 122 student coming to school for in-person instruction.

Annette Flores, director of the Bisbee Boys and Girls Club, and a few of her staff came to the rescue to assist the paraprofessionals by getting students online and helping them.

“They are doing a wonderful job and I am thankful to have them on campus,” Vertrees noted.

At Lowell Junior High School, principal Laura Miller said for the 11- to 12-year-olds, online learning is a challenge. The parents are stressed out as they grapple with the question of putting food on the table or staying home from work to help their children.

“I will say the onsite kids are doing better in class than those online,” Miller added. “But, in my 23 years in the business, I have never seen teachers work harder than they are now.”

Bisbee High School teacher Darin Giltner agreed with Miller and said, “The teachers are putting in great effort. And, we have the same problem with families deciding between working and helping their children.

“It’s a big challenge for the at-home students. Some are using their phones and they can’t see what’s going on. It’s not been an easy thing to navigate.

“But our mindset is we will find a way. We are making every reasonable effort to work with parents and find solutions.”

He also said, “Concerns are being addressed with individual students and families to get students back on track and clarify any confusion or logistical issues that may be contributing to absences.”

Woody said Chromebooks are still on back order and the distributor cannot provide a delivery date.

Board members Ann Litrell, Carol Loy, Brian Ott and Erin Rhodes all commended the faculty for working to overcome the obstacles of online learning.

“I can’t even imagine what you are going through,” said Loy.

Littrell said, “The public needs to know how hard you are working.”

Loy added, “I’d be screaming.”

Giltner replied, “I do that in my car.”

Giltner went on to say the students were still learning to follow the guidelines of masks and walking in certain directions to go from class to class.

“We just have to build habits,” he added. “For the past two weeks we are averaging just more than 100 students on campus each day and continue to remind our students and staff of the importance of following our health guidelines. They have all truly made a conscientious effort to make this a top priority.”

At Lowell, Miller said some students were wearing their masks beneath their noses, but she and the teachers were trying to get the point across of the proper way to wear them.

The total enrollment for the district is down about 50 students, but Woody said some moved away, possibly due to the lack of employment in the area, some dropped out and some chose other online or charter schools. Currently, 650 students are enrolled.

Though this year, the enrollment stabilization grant to help schools out will maintain faculty and staff.

If the decline continues, the district may face some tough choices next year, Woody said.