Scenes like this of parents dropping of their children for the first day of school will be seen again Aug. 17 in Burlington as elementary school students return to in-person classes five days per week. The Burlington Area School District approved its reopening plan Monday. (File photo)

Elementary students will return to classroom 5 days per week with masks; older students will have a split in-person/virtual schedule

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

The Burlington Area School District Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a hybrid in-person/virtual instructional model for fall classes and implemented a face covering policy to start the school year.

The school year will begin Aug. 17 – earlier than normal – to accommodate referendum-approved projects, most noteworthy construction of a new Karcher Middle School.

In summary, the plan calls for students in grades 7 through 12 to attend school two days per week with an additional two days of online instruction, while students in grades 4K through 6 will have in-person instruction the normal five days per week.

Stephen Plank

The reopening plan, according to school administrators, looks to strike a balance between the physical and emotional health of students and staff as the state and nation continues to wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Monday’s presentation, the Board of Education decided on the plan after identifying a set of priorities as well as receiving feedback from more than 900 families.

The board meeting, which is typically held at the district office, was conducted in-person in the library of Burlington High School to accommodate social distancing. Board members, along with many citizens and BASD staff, wore masks as recommended by health officials.


Guided by survey results

The feedback for the reopening plan came in a survey sent to parents about their experiences with virtual learning during the school shut down last spring and included questions about fall instruction.

Priorities include keeping students and staff physically safe, attending to and caring for the social-emotional and mental health needs of students and staff, keeping learning coherent and meeting the needs of every student, regardless of background.

The family surveys, meanwhile, revealed a preference for an in-person instructional model for more rigorous student learning, mental and emotional health and better family balance.

Families, however, had concerns about masks and expressed a desire for more consistency in software used by students and enhanced community from teachers.

Superintendent Stephen Plank, in a presentation to the Board of Education, said staff concerns have also been considered. Those concerns include a mask requirement, physical distancing and employee sick time.

Plank, however, admits finding a healthy balance is a challenge for many districts, including BASD.

“We are asked to balance the physical health of their child, or children, with the mental/emotional health,” he said. “It is an impossible balancing act.”


Many options

On Monday, the Board of Education selected the hybrid-in person/virtual model over two other options, which include 100% virtual learning as well as a modified in-person model.

Plank, noting COVID-19 is an ever-evolving issue, did not rule out changing models during the school year.

“Throughout the year, we expect to shift between three instructional models,” according to his presentation.

The state Department of Instruction, which released guidance June 22, said school officials should expect COVID-19 to linger for up to 18 months and indicated districts will likely need to change methods of instruction as the disease persists.

The hybrid model will consist of two cohorts with secondary students in grades 7-12 using classrooms at Burlington High School.

To accommodate physical distancing, and allow for in-person instruction five days per week, the district plans to reconfigure some grade levels at most elementary schools as part of the 4K-6 cohort.

For the full report from Monday’s meeting, including the configuration of schools for the start of the school year, see the July 16 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.