School board plans 9-week phased reopening

At meeting, public urges speedy return to school, voices skepticism of online classes

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School. (Aug. 5, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The Cordova School Board unanimously approved a plan to gradually reopen school buildings over nine weeks. The decision was made at the board’s Wednesday, Aug. 12 regular meeting, which was held using the video-conferencing platform Zoom.

Under the Cordova School District’s new plan, staff will return to school buildings Monday, Aug. 17 for a week-long training in new protocols and procedures. Staff, working from school buildings, will teach students remotely until Sept. 7, when groups of Mt. Eccles Elementary School and Cordova Jr./Sr. High School students will return to their respective school buildings in rotating groups, minimizing the number of students inside one building at one time. Around Oct. 2, the district plans to reassess public health risks on the basis of available information.

Students will return to the school buildings in small cohorts, probably around 10-12 students in size, Superintendent Alex Russin told the board at an Aug. 12 work session. The district is also considering questions such as how to safely accomplish bus drop-offs and pick-ups. Other possible anti-coronavirus protocols for schools include measures such as wiping down all desks after each class and restricting hallway traffic to one direction.

The plan approved Aug. 12 revised an earlier draft plan, discussed at a Tuesday, Aug. 11 board work session, that would have had students spend nine weeks attending class exclusively online during daily sessions roughly three hours long.

The Aug. 12 meeting was joined by about 45 members of the public, who observed or offered feedback to the board. Several speakers praised the board for grappling with a complex and challenging situation, but urged the board to reopen schools as quickly as safely possible.

“I realize that we’re living in scary times, but it comes to the point where we can’t live in fear of the future anymore,” said Autumn Deaton, a 2020 graduate of Cordova Jr./Sr. High School. “You really need your teachers and your support system at the school… You need your advisories, and you need the support of the other students around you, so I think it’s really important that the juniors and seniors — really, all the students — go back to school full-time.”

Parents, teachers and students also expressed severe skepticism of the usefulness of online classes.

“Three hours online isn’t healthy for any child,” said Lisa DeLaet, a parent who recently moved to Cordova. “And it’s just not realistic. I can’t have my kindergartener sitting there for three hours. He’s probably not going to sit there for 25 minutes… I really do think that online is a lot of wasted time. It’s a waste of the teacher’s time with planning. It just doesn’t work.”

School board clerk Tammy Altermott urged the public to remain patient with the board as they worked to overcome the hurdles posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Cordova will succeed in safely educating its students because of its excellent school staff, she said.

“I hope that we can work on expanding the amount of contact and instructional time that students have, whether that be in person or online or a combination of the two,” said Barb Jewell, president of the board. “I don’t believe that education or academic progress is necessarily solely reliant on seat time. However, instruction time is critical. I also understand that, in these circumstances, it’s not reasonable to expect that education will be the same or will meet the same marks. It will meet different marks, and I want to encourage people to recognize that, in extraordinary times, things do not get done the same way.”

The plan, which was published on the afternoon of Aug. 12, was not included in the Aug. 12 regular meeting packet.