Following the example set by other schools in response to COVID-19, including Flagstaff Unified School District, Flagstaff’s public charter schools have delayed in-person classes in the latest versions of their return-to-school plans.
All Basis Charter Schools, including Basis Flagstaff, have an anticipated start date of Sept. 8, after Labor Day, while both Northland Preparatory Academy and Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy have both delayed the return of students until after the end of their first quarter on Oct. 9.
All three schools will begin online classes next month while they continue to finalize plans and secure supplies needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when students and staff eventually return to campus.
Once permitted by state and federal leaders, both NPA and FALA will offer hybrid models for in-person learning, which would split their student body in half, with the first group meeting on Monday and Tuesday and the other meeting on Thursday and Friday.
This two-day breakdown allows enough time for extended cleaning and sanitation measures on Wednesdays and weekends, between student groups.
On the days they are not scheduled for in-person learning, students will complete their coursework online. The schools intend to have family members in the same group.
Both campuses will be open for teachers and staff during the first quarter of online learning when social distancing practices are possible.
Beyond extensive cleaning protocols as outlined by health officials, Flagstaff’s public charters will each be taking similar but individualized approaches to online and later in-person learning options.
The NPA school board will be voting on plans for an October return to in-person classes during a meeting Thursday evening.
Superintendent David Lykins said, pending approval Thursday, staff will meet the following morning to finalize plans for the start of the school year, such as how materials will be distributed to students.
“I’ve always said in the past that we can’t have a great year if we don’t have a great first day,” Lykins said. “So that’s where our energies are going to be at NPA in the upcoming handful of weeks, to make sure we’re going to have the best first day possible for our students and our staff.”
NPA families received a letter Monday detailing some procedures for the start of the year. Students will interact with their teachers and classmates through videoconferencing and discussion boards.
Lykins said the school ordered more than 325 additional Chromebooks in order to ensure that all students have a dedicated device to use at home to take their classes. The number of devices ordered were based on a survey of families.
Currently, the school’s predicted enrollment for the upcoming year is about 650 students.
The school team is also looking at incorporating social-emotional opportunities in the curriculum for the first quarter, as well as opportunities for students to speak with an adviser and learn more about topics recently brought forward by the NPA Antiracist Coalition.
Lykins said he hopes nine weeks of delay will allow time for the local COVID-19 situation to improve.
“If COVID statistics are in a better spot, the goal would be to have kids in our buildings, because that’s what makes the buildings come alive: the students and teachers coming to school and working collaboratively, together in a learning environment,” he said.
When school begins Aug. 17, FALA will be offering a Learning Lab for students who need a space to complete their online work for both the first quarter and when in-person classes resume, during the days they are not scheduled to be on campus. It has about 100 Chromebooks available for students to check out.
The school has also built “Connection Days” into its online curriculum, on Wednesdays, to allow the two different in-person groups, plus the roughly 25% of students who expressed an interest in taking full online classes, to all interact remotely on service and community projects.
“In the end, if you’re going to be online for a year, there are other online schools that have probably been doing this longer, so for us it’s really that focus on connections and community. … We want to still maintain what makes FALA individual and special and creative, but safely,” said Executive Director Eli Cohen.
The school’s performance-based classes, such as art, dance, music and theater, have proven a particular challenge in planning for the year.
Cohen said teachers are seeking advice from others in the industry, like Arizona School for the Arts, about how they are adapting to COVID-19. FALA teachers are currently considering collaborations between classes like music and dance or theater and creative writing to prevent “online fatigue.” These online classes could be held simultaneously to reduce the amount of time students have to be in front of a computer while still allowing them to practice the two subjects and work on creative projects.
Upon returning to in-person instruction, Cohen said outdoor learning spaces — even tents in the school parking lot — may be an option for these high activity rooms, which will need extra indoor precautions.
“Especially in music, between singing and blowing a horn, you’re spewing germs. … In those rooms, we’re going to make sure we have extra air purifiers and all doors and windows have to be open and we’ll have more filters,” Cohen said.
According to the plan released by Basis Charter Schools, Inc., families with students attending Basis schools will be able to choose between distance and in-person learning prior to campus reopening in the fall.
At the start of the school year, all students will participate in online, structured days by beginning their coursework at the start of every regularly scheduled school day.
“While students will be expected to be in front of a computer at set times during the day, course content is structured to allow for students to watch pre-recorded instruction (e.g., short lecture, demonstrated practice problems) and then work on independent practice (even away from the computer),” the reopening plan states.
Teachers will be available during these hours to assist students.
“We look forward to the day that all students can return to campus, and we will work with you to effectuate that in the safest possible manner,” said Basis.ed CEO Aaron Kindel in a letter to families accompanying the reopening plan.
Basis Flagstaff did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.
Technology will be provided for students in need. Basis is also working to provide increased academic, social and emotional support services for students.
The plan notes that if a student has to remain home because of a COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis, they will receive “Homework Buddy materials” and support from the school.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.
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