SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System is working on a proposed four phase plan to return to in-person learning.
During a board workshop Wednesday morning, the school board looked at the four phase plan. Phase one is the current virtual-only learning option.
District leaders announced that staff will return Oct. 12. But as for a date for students, even that first group, was not given.
The first group to return will be Pre-K through second grade and the least independent learners. What that looks like is students will be placed in cohorts and have a hybrid model attending in-person classes half the week and online the other. They will have age appropriate facial coverings and use staggered times for lunch, recess and breaks.
The second phase also includes extra circular schedule developments.
District leaders then will bring grades 3-5 and 6 and 9 in phase three, with all students then coming back at phase four.
This is right now set on having daily new case rate per 100,000 people at less than 1. Some board members felt that was not realistic or what’s best for students.
“If we are really committed to this less than one per one-hundred thousand on a daily rolling average, we are looking at those five grades not returning to school for a year or two and I think that is not acceptable under any model, so we have got to commit to bringing them back before this green zone that is really difficult,” SCCPSS Board Member Julie Wade said.
“I think that we owe it to ourselves, to our students, to our teachers, to have numbers in each one of these phases understanding that the numbers might go the wrong direction and if they do, we have to again discuss what we’re going to do at that time,” SCCPSS Board Member Dr. David Bringman said.
When it comes to reopening though, district leaders admitted transportation and building operations would be the toughest challenges.
Last year, the district had more than 35,400 students at 50 percent capacity socially distanced; that is just 22,800 or at 75 percent capacity. Not socially distanced that is 34,200. Bus capacity will be reduced to 55 percent capacity with an 84 passenger bus now holding the monitor and 46 students.
This will require an increase in routes and bus drivers. All these plans would be adjusted depending on where the district is in their phased approach.
As for when those will take place, there is no firm benchmark set at this time, but board members strongly urged for that information to help families prepare.
Board President Dr. Joe Buck announced they would schedule an additional meeting next week to discuss specifically those concerns. He says the changing nature of the virus has created a challenge and is what’s leading to some of the changed plans.
“I was concerned about the buses and we were going to use them and now I’m not so sure that the buses are going to be one of our prime concerns,” Dr. Buck said. “I do think that the kids are going to catch it and the staff is going to catch it from close contact for the most part in the halls and in your dining areas where they are pushed and the air is not circulating.”
The board did not get to all their scheduled items during the workshop Wednesday. They have set an additional meeting for next week to address those issues like what happens if there is a positive case.
A dozen families spoke during the meeting Wednesday, explaining their desire to return to in person classes.
Board members discussed how they hope to move forward.
“As a school district, the easiest decision to make is to stay home with virtual learning. We’ve invested a lot to get it going, and that’s the easiest decision. But as we’ve heard today, there is a need and an urgency to return to school for students and families who choose to do so, and it must be done soon. We can do it safely, we are seeing in our own county and schools and nationwide,” Wade said.
“I appreciate the work that has been done. I am committed to using the information for the best, swiftest, safest decision. And I don’t regret the approach we have taken so far,” SCCPSS Board Member Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown said.
While some board members are hoping to move quickly, others compared it to the story of the tortoise and the hare. They will meet to discuss what the numbers need to be to begin their phased approach with face-to-face learning. That’s scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16.
A majority of the parents that went to the meeting want some form of in-person learning quickly and expressed concerns over at-risk students and those with working parents.
Those parents came before the board to also share their experiences with virtual learning. They expressed their students having a hard time adjusting to the curriculum, internet connectivity issues and the security of the online learning platforms being used.
Parents also shared concerns for special needs children learning outside of schools.
A lot of the parents thanked the district for taking precautions, but overall, a majority say they would like to see their students back in the classroom
“Open up these schools for all of us. Open up these schools for the parents. Open up these schools for the childen. Open up the schools for the city,” one parent said.
“Our children are resilient. People always say that about kids. We can be resilient too. I’m an old dog but I’m learning new tricks and I’m learning so much from this and our children are too,” another parent said.
“Children are left home alone because parents are forced to choose between their jobs and their children’s education,” a third SCCPSS parent said.
Toward the end of the board meeting, a lot of board members pushed the idea of giving parents options.
The board will continue to discuss the possible ways to return to in-person learning at next week’s meeting.