by Terry Rogers
For the first six weeks of school, Milford School District students began learning using a fully remote program based on a Milford School District Board of Education decision on Monday, August 6. The school district worked diligently to provide internet hotspots and Chromebooks to any family that needed assistance with technology. Remote learning was set up in synchronous and asynchronous formats, requiring students to be present online at specific times of the day for some lessons while others could be completed at the student’s own pace. Remote learning began on September 9.
On September 21, intense and complex need students began attending school in classrooms. According to Laura Manges, Director of Student Services, told the Board that 150 families had committed to programming on-site.
“Students showed up in the district today,” Manges said. “We have been able to put therapeutic interventions in place. We spent a lot of time planning with transportation. Every building was well-prepared by engaging in training with Dr. Peel, myself and our school nurses. Our staff felt confident, safe and well-prepared for our students to enter today. It was a great undertaking today and we are very proud we were able to support our students in the first phase of the return today.”
The phase-in will continue starting Monday, September 28 when Pre-Kindergarten and special needs children return to the classroom. On October 5, new English learner students start on-site learning with Kindergarten through Grade 3 returning to the classroom on October 12. Grades 4 and 5 return October 19 and Grades 6 through 8 return October 26. Because of the nature of the classes they take, Grades 9 through 12 will not return to the classroom until November 16.
“We did a lot of planning,” Manges said. “We have abbreviated timeframes for our kids who have complex needs so that they can get back to the classroom four days each week. It looks very safe and I think everyone feels good about their return.”
School Board President Jason Miller commended the staff for their hard work in dealing not only with remote learning but also putting a plan in place to bring children safely back to the classroom. He encouraged Manges to push for more students to return to the classroom.
“We have been doing that,” Manges said. “We have gotten some guidance from the Department of Education with regard to recovery educational practices as well as language and opportunities that we are building into IEPs for those students. We don’t want anyone to fall behind. This was week one and we are holding those meetings to see what we can offer on-site and virtually for those kiddoes who are struggling.”
In addition to discussion regarding student’s returning to the classroom, the Board approved an adjustment to the attendance policy to address remote and hybrid learning.
“We are officially off and running and I can assure you it is a dramatic difference between the professional learning and the collaboration with the students and families than in previous years,” Dr. Bridget Amory, Supervisor of Secondary Student Learning, said. “We are making the best of our remote learning. We are seeing 95 percent attendance in the remote learning setting along with the random pet, sibling, family member or stuffed animal that may join. We are working to provide families with onsite internet connectivity. We just announced that we will be offering evening internet services at three schools to address community needs. One of our students, Michelle Perez, said ‘So far, I have been able to overcome each obstacle and am hopeful that the rest of the school year will move smoothly.’ This endeavor has been a fierce learning curve for all of us. Our teachers are sharing resources and creative ideas more than ever with a “we are in this together” mentality. We are definitely working together more than ever which is indeed the spirit of the Milford community.”
Board Member David Vezmar stated that he received several emails from families who were struggling with the remote learning process and that it seemed younger children were having the most difficulty sitting in front of a screen to learn.
“But, overwhelmingly, I have heard nothing but positive about how the students log in, the support the teachers are giving,” Vezmar said. “All I keep hearing is how Milford School District staff and administration are doing an amazing job.” Board Member Judy Purcell agreed, stating that she sat in on a few classes and saw the patience teachers had when they told children to “click here to go to your next class” or guided a student through the technology necessary to get where they needed to be.
Dr. Amory explained that there was a need to make changes to the current attendance policy, mostly for record-keeping purposes. The changes are considered an extension of Milford School Board Policy 5403.
“During hybrid or remote learning, the school day consists of 3.5 to 5 hours daily of synchronous or asynchronous learning,” Dr. Amory said. “Attendance may be based on a combination of participation in, completion or submission of assignments. While attendance is important, it does not reflect learning. If a student is giving us evidence of attending online and submitting work, they are marked present. If they are not attending, but submitting work, they are still marked present. We have created a chart for staff to use that simplifies how they should determine if a child is present or absent.”
Amory explained, based on a question from Purcell, that there is a set window for submitting assignments completed during synchronous learning in order for a student to be marked present if they were initially marked absent.
The new policy also provides additional reasons a child’s absence may be marked excused. These include documented power outages, documented internet service provider outages, documented unexpected technical difficulties such as software updates, password resets, etc., and complications created by the State of Emergency which interfere with student participation in school.
The Board voted six to zero to approve the adjustment to the attendance policy. In addition. Board Member Rony Baltazar-Lopez asked that the new policy be posted in Creole, Spanish and English.
“I would also like to add to one of our agendas, maybe in October or November, a discussion about attendance,” Baltazar-Lopez said. “In the 2019-20 school year, 13 percent of our students suffered chronic absenteeism. While remote learning may be a contributing factor this year, I think this is an important discussion to have at a future board meeting.” Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, stated that he would take steps to be sure a discussion about attendance was on a future board agenda.