Willcox Schools Superintendent Kevin Davis told his board last week that their hybrid school plan for only two in-person instruction days per week should change.
“I think it would be better to go back to the four-day school week eventually because of the difficulty with distance and not having students on campus and all those other things that entails,” Davis said.
Those other things include the lack of student performance with only two days of in-person instruction.
“Students and teachers are stressed because of the double workload of trying to provide two or three different types of instruction and monitoring that two days a week in class and two days a week on their own,” Davis said.
“Are kids being productive on their off days, are they participating, are they doing their homework, are they getting enough personal instruction, or tutoring or whatever they need? So there is that to consider.”
Cochise County is close to hitting their health metric benchmarks that show a lower risk of contracting the coronavirus, but Davis also cautioned the school board on the risks of increasing the student population back to normal attendance levels.
“We’re just now into our 14th day of instruction with students on campus, so if the incubation period is 10-14 days, if we were going to have an outbreak, then technically we would start seeing it now. We aren’t yet,” he said. “But if we were to come back to the four-day full schedule and we were to start seeing a start of illness because we’ve only been 14 days, then would we be opening ourselves up to a lot of infection cases?”
Board member Bill Ryan had a question for the three campus principals in attendance at the meeting last Tuesday. “So there have been some surveys taken asking opinions about the four-day week. When does your staff like to have the full day schedule start?”
High school principal Tammy Hall said, “They are almost a 50/50 split as far as ‘let’s start right away’ or ‘let’s wait until the end of the first quarter,” she said. “At one time the sentiment was stronger to wait for the end of the first quarter, but I was surprised that ‘Let’s start now,’ kind of crept up today.”
Elementary school principal Valerie Simon said, “We’re still seeing a few more that would like to wait until the end of the first quarter, but we’ve been almost evenly split.”
Middle school principal David Chaim said the beginning of the second quarter, after the Columbus Day holiday, is “where most of our staff wants to start.”
Hall personally saw some merit in waiting. “I’m actually looking forward to seeing what our nine-week benchmarks show, because I want to know where we are this year compared to this point last year. To have some data to show whether this is working or not.”
Board member Gary Clement, a parent with a child, didn’t like resuming full school immediately.
“I don’t think that rushing back this fast is what we ought to be doing and we should stick with what we’re doing now and not come back full time until after another month,” he said. “On Oct. 5th is when I would suggest coming back because it’s a week before the end of the quarter and anybody who needs help can get help that a week before the tests.”
Middle school teacher Craig Hamilton attended the meeting and told the board that he didn’t think kids should wait quite that long.
“For me, as a teacher of seventh and eighth graders, when they’re home doing the inline instruction, there’s a lack of discipline. I’m seeing a lot of work not coming back online. As a result, I’m having quite a few students that are struggling mightily right now.”
Superintendent Davis said no matter when they come back, parents still have the option of only sending their kids to school twice a week or keeping them home with online instruction offered as the substitute.
Ryan came up with a compromise suggestion that the board came to the best agreement upon.
“We wait a couple of weeks and we have a special meeting and we’ll be plenty past the 14 days,” Ryan said. “If we wait two weeks, then the soonest we will be able to bring them back is three weeks because you need a week to let parents and everybody know.”
The Willcox school board unanimously agreed to meet in a special session Sept. 14 to consider a Sept. 21 start date for returning to the full four-day per week class attendance schedule.
Davis added “ When I ask high school kids about coming back four days a week, they say ‘we want to be in school but we don’t want to do something too soon that causes us to have be out of school again.’ They want to be in school so badly that they are willing to come to school for two days a week for a little while longer and do more homework rather than cause them to not be in school down the line.”