Tacoma Public Schools unveils options for returning to school this fall

Tacoma Public Schools unveiled its approach to the 2020-2021 school year.

On Thursday, Superintendent Carla Santorno presented the two options families will be able to choose from. Option one is a completely online school curriculum taught by certified teachers.
Option two is a hybrid model with some days in class and other days taught at home.

Related story: Tacoma Public Schools unveils 2 options for students in fall of 2020

Nora Doyle, public information officer for TPS, said both models are based on Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and requirements set by local and state health departments.

"We understand that families days, their schedules, their routines are all wrapped around what their kids are doing. And so, we don't take this responsibility lightly. We know that changing this routine that has been in affect for decade upon decade is a really big deal. So, we're trying to do it really thoughtfully and really carefully," said Doyle.

With the hybrid model, the number of days actually spent inside the school will vary based on grade level.

Students in kindergarten, first and possible second grade would be in school four days a week with one day of online learning.

Students in third grade through high school would be in school two days a week with three days of online learning.

"At any one time only about half of the school's population can be in a building at once," said Doyle.

The public information officer said of thousands of parents who participated in an online survey, more than 80 percent of them said they wanted their student enrolled in the hybrid model.

With the high demand for in-school learning, it raises questions if there will be enough space for students while maintaining health and safety requirements.

"We know the buildings can't fit everybody, we know that their has to be social distancing, we know there are going to have to be these measures that are going to limit who has access to that face to face. And as a parent, my concern is my kids get the best that they can get," said Celva Boon, a TPS parent.

Boon has a son enrolled at every level in the district, elementary, middle and high school. She said only one of her boys adapted well to remote learning after schools closed statewide to reduce exposure to COVID-19.
"And then my other two are really more hands-on learners. So, they kind of really struggled to grasp how to learn content in this online situation. And I really honestly feel the teachers did the best they could, but it was just--it's almost like it was a wasted school year for them," said Boon.

The Tacoma Educators Association also has questions for the district surrounding safety for those who are at higher risk of coronavirus.

"We have a lot of staff that fall into the various categories--whether it's because of their age or undlerying health issues or caring for family. They maybe have somebody at home that's in the high risk category, or they're pregnant or their spouse is pregnant," said Shannon Ergun, president of the Tacoma Educators Association.

Erugn said the union is in conversation with the district about what the academic model will look like in the fall.

"If I'm in the classroom, I can't teach the kids that are sitting there and also monitor and supervise and provide support for the kids at home. So, do we have ways of providing those alternative learning environments for students? And then alternative working environments for our staff?" said Ergun.

"When we're in class doing work, how do I grade and what do I collect? Those kind of things. So, there's the big things--how do we stay safe in our buildings? And even just the little protocols that continue to keep us safe and healthy?"

As the district tries to navigate through the uncharted territory, parents like Boon said they hope what is decided upon provides the highest quality education possible.

"Look at the data, look at what other school districts are doing, and maybe not only look in our country but lets try to look at what some of the other countries are doing," said Boon.

Doyle said the district welcomes public input about the two proposed models. She said the input will be considered before the models are presented to the school board for a vote, scheduled for July 23rd.

"We know that there's so much still left to come and people just want answers. And that is absolutely understandable. We need to start making our plans and we need to be going to work, we need to make sure that our kids health, safety and education are all going to be taken care of," said Doyle.

The district will have laptops ready to assign to students. High school students will be the first to receive laptops beginning late August. The district said plans for middle school elementary school students will follow.

The TPS website also stated, "While the district already ordered all the laptops necessary to provide one to every student in grades 1-12, laptop computers worldwide are on back order and take nearly 150 days working days to receive."

Ergun said she appreciates the district is working to address the disparities among families, like lack of access to internet and devices.

"I think we are to the point where we're agreeing that everybody needs access to internet and devices that are internet capable to function in our current society. So, to me, these kinds of conversations lend hope," said Ergun.

"As we look at inequalities, we are able then to look at how do we repair that. And I don't know that we would have gotten this far in the discussions about racial and social justice issues if we hadn't had this major crisis to really force us into that conversation."

Read the full plan from Tacoma Public Schools here