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Rise in COVID cases across county forces Big Spring to shelve Tier Three transition plan for elementary schools
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Big Spring Schools

Rise in COVID cases across county forces Big Spring to shelve Tier Three transition plan for elementary schools

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Newville Elementary School

Newville Elementary School is located at 100 Steelstown Road in Newville.

Big Spring School District has shelved a proposal to transition elementary school students to classroom instruction four days a week.

The recent uptick in COVID-19 cases across Cumberland County has made it impractical for the district to move the students from a Tier Two to a Tier Three model of instruction starting in early December, Superintendent Richard Fry said Wednesday during a virtual town hall meeting.

On the week Fry briefed Big Spring families on the status of the proposal, nearby school districts closed their buildings through the end of November and have switched over to fully remote instruction.

For now, Big Spring will continue to operate its buildings under the Tier Two hybrid model where all grade levels attend school two days a week for in-person instruction and stay at home three days a week for remote instruction.

The proposal that was under review would have moved elementary students to Tier Three so that they could attend school in person Monday through Thursday. Under that scenario, the students would not attend school on Friday because that’s the day set aside for custodial staff to do a thorough cleaning of district buildings and for teachers to prepare lesson plans for classroom and livestream instruction.

School districts countywide are monitoring data on the infection rate of COVID-19 in their communities. Every district developed a plan over the summer to provide a range of instruction from fully in-person to fully remote with hybrid options in between.

If conditions warrant it, Big Spring is ready to transition to Tier One, the fully remote model, in one or more of its buildings, Fry said Wednesday. In terms of academic rigor, Tier One would be an improvement over what was offered in the spring when the outbreak of the pandemic forced the closure of schools statewide and districts to pivot suddenly to online instruction, he said.

The process

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On Sept. 28, Big Spring launched the process to prepare its elementary schools for the possible transition to Tier Three as early as Dec. 1. Back then, data showed a lower incidence of community spread and positivity. This made the target date look promising.

However, conditions have worsened in recent weeks to the point where Cumberland County is seeing its highest number of new cases per day and its highest percent positivity. That rise in cases prompted Big Spring officials to rethink the timeline and shelve the Tier Three transition plan, at least for now.

Though a setback, the target date of Dec. 1 provided incentive for Big Spring administrators and faculty members to prepare the groundwork needed to switch to Tier Three within six to 10 days of a decision being made to go with the transition, Fry said. “It was a great line in the sand. It really forced us to get the work done. We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount since Sept. 28. We promised [families] we would examine our ability to move to Tier Three. We are ready to move forward when the data presents itself in a manner that allows us to do that.”

Specifically, transition team members adjusted bus routes, modified school schedules and updated the district strategy on how to socially distance elementary school students in Tier Three.

“We are ready to go with Plexiglass dividers in classrooms,” Fry said Wednesday. The district has worked out a schedule of rolling arrival and dismissal times to spread out elementary students so they don’t gather in large groups at points of access and egress, he said.

“I am hopeful we can get three or four months in Tier Three for our students this [school] year,” Fry said. “But we can’t hurry it along and risk the health and safety of students and staff. Nothing is more important to us than bringing all of our kids back. Our teachers want nothing more than that. But we also have to balance the health, safety and wellness of all involved.”

Thought Exchange In the leadup to Wednesday’s meeting, the district hosted an online survey through the Thought Exchange platform to gather public input on what excites and concerns Big Spring families about the proposal to move elementary students to in-person instruction Monday through Thursday. Thought Exchange allows the district to field questions to certain groups or to the Big Spring community as a whole. Participants in the process can anonymously submit as many thoughts and ideas as they desire and they can rate the thoughts of others. The more the public participates, the more the input is read and evaluated until the most valued thoughts emerge, providing insight for district leaders to consider as they deliberate policy. Assistant Superintendent Kevin Roberts reviewed the Thought Exchange results during Wednesday’s meeting. According to him, there were 121 participants evenly spread among the district’s three elementary school buildings — Mount Rock, Newville and Oak Flat. The thoughts that drew the strongest response were: “Cases are worse than ever. If you were going to go back full time, you should have done it from the beginning when it was less.” “I am afraid that the trajectory to open is not in line with the increasing case rates across the country and Cumberland County.” “While I would love for my children to be back face to face with their teachers, I think it is unwise at this time to send students back full-time.” “Getting my child’s education back on track would be great. However, his health is more important.” Thought Exchange also provided data on the common ground between participants who didn’t think early December was the right time to move to Tier Three and participants who knew the risks but wanted students back in school full-time.(tncms-asset)bfbe8984-d359-11ea-93f9-00163ec2aa77[4](/tncms-asset) “The consensus on both sides was continuity,” Roberts said. “If we start back full face-to-face, the concern is it will shut down quickly as cases go up. The second area of consensus is social distancing. If we are to move into full face-to-face, they were very interested and concerned about the amount of distancing that we [the district] can provide.” The last area of consensus was whether there was enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control. The survey mentioned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for masks. In his remarks, Fry outlined the road ahead. “It’s just a situation where we’re not able to keep families happy,” the superintendent said. “We’re going to do our best on a daily basis to deliver within the protocols and within the data we receive daily.” To view a recording of the virtual town meeting, visit the district website at www.bigspringsd.org/ and scroll down the homepage to “District News.” From there, clink on the link to “Elementary Tier 3 Virtual Town Hall Meeting Recording.” >Photos: Big Spring hosts

graduating seniors car parade June 5

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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