UPDATE, Thursday, 1:30 p.m.: The school board has canceled the special meeting that was scheduled for Monday.
ORIGINAL STORY: The Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees will convene a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to consider sending elementary school kids back to the classroom five days a week.
Kids in kindergarten through fifth grade attend four days of school in person, and Friday is a virtual education day. At least some trustees are interested in those kids returning to school on Fridays as soon as Oct. 19.
“We all gotta start working at getting out of this, and I wish we could get a date,” Trustee Bill Scarlett said at the board’s Sept. 9 meeting.
When the board met last, it considered sending elementary school students back as soon as mid-September. That was about a week after students returned to school, and teachers and principals asked the board to give them time to adjust to the new coronavirus precautions before changing things.
For elementary school teachers in particular, the schedule when kids are in school is demanding. Because students are in pods to limit the number of people they interact with, teachers are with them more often and have fewer opportunities to plan, prepare lessons and even go to the bathroom.
“Teachers are planners; we like to know what’s coming,” Chris Bessonette, a Munger Mountain Elementary School second-grade teacher, told the board in September. “This month is planned out, and switching already would be a big shift.”
The push to return to full-time in-person instruction comes after Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell wrote a letter saying he supported the idea. Since students are learning in the tightly regulated pods, bumping them to five days a week wouldn’t greatly increase their risk of infection.
Bessonette and other educators told the school board that hastily moving to full-time in-person classes would severely limit their planning time because teachers are covering lunches and other activities they haven’t traditionally been responsible for supervising. They asked the board to consider how it could support them in those activities if it opts for five classroom days per week.
Trustees discussed hiring new staff to provide extra supervision so teachers could take time to plan, but it’s not clear whether the district could find enough qualified staff. If opening their pocketbooks to facilitate full-time classroom learning is necessary, some trustees are ready to do so.
“If they need more resources to get the teachers those breaks, I’m all for it,” Scarlett said. “If that means we have to bring in people, we have the reserves.”
The agenda for the meeting should be posted to TCSD.org this morning, and written public comment will be taken until noon Friday. To give verbal comment during the proceedings, sign on through the Webex link the district will post on its website before the meeting.