Fairfield schools begin synchronous learning, while planning for full return
FAIRFIELD — Educators will begin teaching older students online and in-person simultaneously starting Monday, though the wait will be a little longer for elementary schoolers.
Teachers have been training and practicing how to teach to both the students in front of them and those learning at home. With the technology set to be distributed this week at the middle and high schools, the district is now ready to roll out its synchronous instruction.
“There’s a variety of ways synchronous instruction will look based on the instructor and the class,” Zakia Parrish, the district’s executive director of operations and processes, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
She said this will better help students who are quarantining remain connected to their classes.
Parrish said there will be opportunities for staff members to share what’s working with peers in their building and across the district.
Elementary students are expected to start after Thanksgiving, giving teachers more time to prepare and allowing for the Wi-Fi upgrade to be completed. The upgrade is part of the district’s larger plan to increase the broadband within the schools. It was already rolled out at the middle and high schools, but delayed at the elementary schools last year so the money could be used to buy Chromebooks.
School board members said there needed to be more support for parents and students, especially those who aren’t showing up or have special needs.
Attendance will be taken at the start of each class, and students must remain logged in the whole time under the synchronous model. School officials will then identify students who need intervention and more help. Some students are already receiving more support durin in-person instruction.
The move to synchronous learning comes as officials prepare to fully reopen or go fully remote, depending on the amount of cases in the community.
Parents have been critical of the district’s decision to not fully reopen in person when the number of cases was relatively low earlier in the school year. Dozens of families gathered on the Sherman Green on Monday for a rally calling for transparency and a reopening plan that included more guidance from school officials.
A virtual town hall is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Wednesday where the school board will answer parents’ questions on a number of topics, including the reopening.
Some parents who called into Tuesday’s meeting said they understood why the district decided to delay the full return for the elementary students due to the rising cases, but said a plan needs to be in place so they can transition to full in-person as soon as those numbers decrease.
Superintendent Mike Cummings said the district is updating its reopen plan from the summer and crafting a schedule that will easily allow the district to move between hybrid, full-in person and fully remote, which the governor might call for if there are too many cases across the state.
“This is not a Fairfield-only conversation,” he said. “This is a conversation happening in every district in the state right now.”
He said other schools have also had to deal with closing because there weren’t enough staff members to hold class in person.
“We’re kind of walking around the edge of a knife with this,” Cummings said.
He cautioned the ability to open could be affected by people’s Thanksgiving plans and whether they gather or travel out of state based on the current state guidelines.
The district is currently following guidance set out by the state in Addendum 4 on when to close a school, but Cumming said it’s hard to set exact health metrics to determine which to use, though the trend should show cases decreasing.
“It’s going to be difficult to pick a number,” he said, adding the state should be giving more guidance soon.
Board member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly challenged using infection rate guidelines, arguing schools around the globe remain in session as other parts of their countries shut down. She said the schools’ protocols help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the negative effects of remote learning are more dangerous to students than COVID-19.
“Based on science and based on fact, we should be back,” she said.
Cummings said the new schedule would also return the middle and high schools to the rotations they were using before they shut down in March, and remove Wednesday as a remote day for everyone.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work going on right now to keep the school system moving forward,” he said of efforts by school employees and the health department to keep schools open in some fashion.