Yukon Public Schools’ students will return to the classroom soon.
The YPS Board of Education, at its Sept. 8th meeting, voted 4-1 to have students come back to YPS school sites this month – instead of waiting until after fall break. Board President Suzanne Cannon voted no.
Pre-kindergarten through third grade students will return to classrooms on Wednesday, Sept. 16 and fourth through 12th graders will be back in the schools on Monday, Sept. 21. That action was recommended by YPS Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth and fellow administrators.
Other options were to have all students return Sept. 23 or to take no action and revisit the issue at the Oct. 3 board meeting – with an eye on returning to classrooms Oct. 20.
Board members referred to calls and emails they received from parents, many calling for schools to reopen for in-person learning.
“Tonight’s meeting was hard,” Board President Cannon said afterward. “We find ourselves in a situation where there are no good answers. A group of parents demanding to go back to school representing about 6% of our student population felt they had no choice at the beginning of the year.
“I heard from just as many parents who didn’t want to go back before the originally stated October date. My no vote was for them and for our teachers who have no choice. Our district will move forward doing the best we can under circumstances none of us have ever faced before. We will be united as we practice flexibility and grant each other grace.”
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Cannon thanked patrons who reached out to her “respectfully” with “solution-oriented” e-mails and phone calls.
“I got 17 emails and seven phone calls,” she said. “And I was very happy to hear from all of them.”
Students have been participating in athletics and extra-curricular activities because these are voluntary – but education is compulsory.
“Those parents who are choosing to have their kids participate in sports, and band, and soccer, and softball – it is their choice,” Cannon said. “It’s not something that we have mandated, or (we believe) football is more important than history, English, science, and math.”
PROTOCOLS IN PLACE
Health and safety protocols – including wearing face coverings, social distancing, sanitizing procedures, and possible temperature checks – will be in place when students rejoin teachers at YPS school buildings.
Detailed guidelines also have been established for hallways, cafeterias, restrooms, assemblies, and bus routes for each site.
Most of the Yukon school district’s estimated 8,800 students have been “distance learning” online through a Continuous Learning Plan (CLP), with YPS teachers providing the instruction using the district’s curriculum. The exception are 678 students who opted for the Yukon Virtual School, a semester-long commitment.
Only the CLP students will return to the classrooms this month in what Dr. Simeroth is confident will be a smooth transition.
The YPS board and administrators originally planned to start the 2020-21 school year in the traditional setting Aug. 13, then Aug. 20. Those plans changed in early August when YPS officials decided to keep students away from classrooms for at least nine weeks due to COVID-19 concerns, including positive tests and exposures among staff and students.
They had planned for students to be away from school buildings until at least mid-October, but many YPS patrons convinced them to reopen classrooms sooner. The 4-1 vote came after an hour-long discussion during Tuesday’s meeting.
Yukon’s school superintendent thanked board members, who he noted “have been under some duress” in recent weeks.
“The decisions we make are going to be, first and foremost, for our kids, based on our kids, and only for our kids, to begin with,” Dr. Simeroth said. “Then we have the other considerations that we pile on top of there.
“But that’s where we always start – with our kids.”
Simeroth shared his appreciation to those patrons who have contacted him personally and done so with reason and thought.
“In every decision we make as a school district, somebody’s upset,” he said. “And that’s OK. Because we do the right thing, in our viewpoint, as a board and as a school district, for our kids.
“We have professionals in our school system, and we have caring professionals on our school board as well.”
FOR THE KIDS
YPS Board Vice President Chris Cunningham said all board members – no matter their opinion – are always thinking about the district’s students when making decisions.
“Everybody has the best interest of the kids in mind, number one,” said Cunningham, acknowledging that people will be unhappy with any decision in this situation.
“We can just do what we think is the best for the children and try to move forward.”
Dr. Simeroth trusts the Yukon school district is much better prepared now if any student or staff member must be quarantined – or in the chance a classroom or school must shut down.
He referred to the “uncertainly” about a possible COVID outbreak when the decision was made to close school sites to students.
“I’m 100% convinced the way we started was the absolute right way to start, for a multitude of reasons,” Simeroth opined. “By giving these four, five weeks of continuous learning plan instruction, everybody knows what to expect – if and when it happens.”
YPS officials encourage district patrons to visit the “Return to Learn” page on the district’s website (www.yukonps.com) for more details on site plans. People can access detailed information outlining criteria and procedures should students or staff test positive for COVID-19 or if classrooms or school sites must close due to illness.
Read more in the Sept. 12th print edition of The Yukon Progress and online at http://www.yukonprogress.com