Schools reopen April image

Edgemont Schools are on track to bring back all students who wish to be in-person by the end of April.

When the school board met March 9 to hear the district’s plans and ask questions about protocols and procedures, the highlight of the virtual meeting was a video presentation by Seely Place Elementary School sixth graders Carla Ruiz and Joya Ishak, who explained why they believe sixth graders should be brought back to school in a fully in-person model.

After the students spoke, Edgemont director of curriculum and instruction Michael Curtin briefly outlined the district’s decision-making strategy and implementation plan.

“[We tried] to seek feedback at pretty much every possible instance from all the stakeholders,” Curtin explained. “There’s a stakeholder group [Superintendent Victoria] Kniewel meets with regularly that includes teachers, public health experts, parents, community members. The buildings have their own health and safety committees. We spent a lot of time conferring with the [school] board. We connect with teachers at faculty meetings, department meetings, grade level meetings ... And certainly, outside of the district, we’re talking frequently with other districts to find out what they’re doing, as well as with experts ... And we have sought parent feedback intermittently throughout the school year. All those sources have been helpful in informing how we go about recovering from COVID as a district, and how we start to bring kids back for full-time, in-person schooling.”

Curtin described how in November 2020, certain populations of the student body were identified as priorities when discussing who should be the first to return to in-person learning. After special education students with individualized education plans, grades K-2 were prioritized, as these two groups of students were identified as struggling the most to learn via the remote model. At the end of January, special education students whose parents chose to send them in were back. By March 3, all of Edgemont’s kindergarteners were in-person, with expected return dates scheduled for grades 1 and 2 on March 10 and March 17 respectively.

Superintendent Kniewel explained that the district will continue to offer a remote option for the remainder of the current school year, and will probably continue to offer a remote option for the 2021-22 school year, contingent upon vaccine availability. Depending on the grade level, a hybrid model may also continue to be available, Dr. Kniewel added.

Regarding safety measures, masks will be mandatory and the school district has invested in “sneeze guards” or barriers for the elementary school students. Airflow will be regularly monitored in classrooms. In addition, voluntary “surveillance testing” will be implemented, whereby 5% of everyone on the Edgemont Jr./Sr. High School campus will be given a COVID test each week (approximately 50 people per week).

In response to school board member Nilesh Jain’s questions regarding “the social and emotional infrastructure” that the district is looking to implement to address the effects of the pandemic on the social, mental and emotional health and learning of Edgemont’s student body, Dr. Kniewel explained that “the counselors, the school psychologists [and] the teachers are very much looking at what are the needs of the students, not just academically but also socially and emotionally.” 

“In fact,” Kniewel continued, “at the high school, the counselors and the administrators are reaching out to the students who are remote-only because there are many reasons why students are choosing to be remote right now, and it’s not just for health concerns.” 

Dr. Kniewel explained that data is being gathered and different types of assessments are being administered to the student population in order to identify how students can be supported mentally and emotionally through academic means, such as through conversations with school psychologists or a shifting in curriculum.

Discussions will continue March 23 at 8 p.m. A link for the virtual meeting will be available at edgemont.org.

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