July 14, 2020 10:13:10 AM
Students at Columbus Municipal School District will spend the majority -- if not all -- of their school weeks online this fall, the board of trustees unanimously decided during its monthly meeting Monday night.
Starting Aug. 6, the district will adopt a "hybrid schedule" combining both in-person and virtual learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CMSD's website.
Of the district's roughly 3,500 students, those who opt in the hybrid schedule will physically attend school two days a week and study remotely for the rest of the week, following regular school hours. A virtual-only model, which requires students to have Internet access every day during class hours, also will be an option.
Students who choose to follow the hybrid learning model will be split into two groups, each with a different schedule: Some will be assigned to an "A schedule," which means they will go to school physically on Mondays and Tuesdays; those assigned to a "B schedule" will attend school on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be for campus disinfection and teacher training, according to the website.
Those who do not have reliable Internet access can attend school at the district's "designated safe sites" on days of their virtual learning, and electronic devices will be provided at those sites. Students who study remotely have to receive diagnostic and state testing at the "safe sites." Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the spaces will be disinfected between uses and computers will be set six feet apart from each other, according to the district's website.
In a video introducing the hybrid schedule, Superintendent Cherie Labat appealed to parents for their support in helping students advance their learning amid the pandemic.
"It is imperative as parents that if you choose a virtual learning option, that you exercise best practices for students to learn in their home environment," Labat said. "Best practices include: a quiet space, materials needed for class, routines to meet real-time course schedules, regular communication with teachers and support staff, commitment to taking benchmark and state assessments at school-based sanitized safe sites and support materials needed for class."
Teachers must be physically at school every day, Labat told The Dispatch on Tuesday. Except for Wednesdays, they will be teaching half of their usual students in person while offering virtual instructions to the other half, she said. Students must spend 240 minutes a day learning through one of the three ways: working through assignments, learning from an online instruction program or communicating with teachers about their learning progress.
Bus transportation will be offered to all students, but private transportation also is encouraged to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Students will also be required to wear a mask after boarding the bus and on campus for most of the time, Labat told The Dispatch Monday night.
"This is particularly important because (masks) reduce the spread of the virus from 80 to 90 percent," she said. "We know that it's going to be difficult, but we understand it's important for ... disease prevention."
The district will still offer school lunch five times a day, Labat said, but instead of hot meals, it will offer packed meals to reduce health concerns. Students can pick up the meals for the rest of the week on days they are physically at school, and eat in classrooms at school, she said.
"We'll take very flexible feeding patterns to make sure students have a meal for five days a week," Labat said. "We're also (trying) to make sure that we have the most sanitized environment in distributing food to our students."
CMSD Board of Trustees President Jason Spears told The Dispatch the students will also have their temperature checked upon boarding the buses or entering the campus. The district will provide hand sanitizers to the students as well, he said.
Due to the uncertain nature of the pandemic, Spears said the district still has a lot of details in the works.
"As we kind of move into it, we'll have to adapt and be accommodative and meet the need of students as well as the parents," he said.
To offer transportation to students in the fall, CMSD is also recruiting a team of bus drivers for its fleet of 69 buses. The effort came after the district parted ways in May with Ecco Ride, the company that used to manage transportation for the district. With the company gone, CMSD has to conceive its own transportation department, the cost of which was estimated at $2 million in May.
On Monday, the board unanimously approved the pay scale for bus drivers at a $12 hourly rate. Assistant Superintendent Glenn Dedeaux told the board the district has received 49 applications for the jobs and, as a contingency plan, intends to recruit some of its teachers or coaches as part-time bus drivers.
The district's tentative schedule is for full-time bus drivers to work six hours a day for five days a week, Labat told The Dispatch.
For bus operations and maintenance, the board also approved Monday the lease of a building at 310 Idlewild Road. The monthly rate is $1,450, Spears told The Dispatch. Leasing instead of buying the building was a great choice for CMSD, he said, because the owner would still have to pay property taxes on the land, which CMSD collects as revenue.
"We're in a way getting back some of those funds that we are paying in a lease to the landlord," he said. "It's a really good property for a reasonable price."
Hunt campus recovery
In other business, the rebuild of a two-story building at Hunt High School campus -- where the roof and most of its classrooms were destroyed in the EF-3 tornado that hit Columbus in February 2019 -- began last week, Spears told The Dispatch.
The building on 20th Street North had housed the alternative school and CMSD's operations.
The installation of the roof is underway, Spears said, and is expected to reach completion in November. The roofing cost is estimated at $2.1 million, which will be entirely covered by the district's insurance agency, Wisconsin-based Middlesex Insurance Company, he said.
The company filed a lawsuit against the district in March, claiming CMSD had requested $14 million for repairs Middlesex estimated at $4.8 million. As of March 10, the district has received roughly $3.6 million from the insurance company, The Dispatch reported.
The board discussed the lawsuit on Monday but took no actions, Spears told The Dispatch.
Yue Stella Yu is the local government reporter for The Dispatch. Reach her at 662-328-2424 (ext 106) or follow her on Twitter @StellaYu_Mizzou
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