Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Roger Dey
BVD Editor 

Lincoln School closure extended into January

 

December 3, 2020

The Lincoln School Board voted to extend the school closure and to continue distance learning until Jan. 4 during an emergency meeting Nov. 25.

Classes were initially set to resume at the school Monday, after the school was closed Nov. ?? due to several students and staff members found they had been in close contact with a person who was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus.

Since then, the number of both confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 continues to climb within the community, and a number of families with school-aged children reportedly went into quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus.

Lincoln School Board President Aaron Birkholz estimated up to a quarter of the schools students could potentially be out of school due to quarantines. Superintendent Jennifer Packer also noted in-person attendance could be impacted by parents choosing to keep their kids out of school due to the potential for exposure to the virus.

Shane Brown, the Lincoln Elementary School principal and the COVID-19 response team leader, told the BVD he understands the privacy concerns, but the lack of information on the confirmed cases in the community is frustrating.

"We're trying to do our best to control exposure and when people are being a little more quiet about it, it makes it a little more difficult. It forces you to want to be shut down, because you don't know," he said.

During the Nov. 25 meeting, staff members were generally supportive of the move to protect students, staff and families, but expressed concern about the effect distance learning and screen time is having on their students.

Both Brown and Packer told the BVD their experience with distance learning in the last year showed it has had an impact on some students, depending on their degree of personal self-motivation or on their support at home to help keep them on track.

Following a staff meeting last Friday, teachers and administrators have opted to make some changes to their distance learning model, particularly for junior high and high school students.

Packer said they learned from last spring's distance learning experience and changed their approach this fall during the closure in October, when they basically replicated full-day class schedules online. However, Packer conceded that may have gone too far in the other direction. "That's too much time on that screen," she said.

Rather than having the students online for the full day, which led some students to lose focus or feel added stress due to the sheer amount of screen-time, students will instead have their face-to-face online class schedules compressed into the first half of the day.

"We're having half-hour classes online, when they have to come in and do their attendance online and do stuff with the teacher a bit, then there are office hours in the afternoon," Packer said. "The kids can work at their own pace, but then get questions answered. There are a lot of them working one-on-one with the paraprofessionals and the teachers already."

The change came about as teachers work to balance their live, online interaction with their students with screen time that can become tedious to the point they lose focus or don't seek the one-on-one help they may need.

"I think the shorter classes and stuff will help de-stress some of the kids who are really on there, and self-motivated and trying to get things going," Packer said.

The elementary classes are just going to narrow their focus a little bit, Brown said. "They've been doing a pretty good job with their in-person classrooms and things, but we're just going to cut down on screen time."

Packer said distance learning is also stressful for the teachers who have to assess their students and keep them engaged and on track, without being able to interact with or motivate them in person. "Some (students) are doing just fine. Others, it's just a struggle ...so it's really frustrating for the teachers," she said.

Packer and Brown both are hoping parents and family members will help keep their students on track during the school's closure.

"If you're a family member and you feel safe helping a student with the assistance they may need for the schooling - especially if their parents have to be out working - that would be great," Packer said. "I think all parents would appreciate anything like that."

Brown, who is also the school athletic director, said the closure may also have an impact on the upcoming basketball season, slated to begin Jan. 7. Teams are required to have completed ten practices before their first game and he doesn't currently have a start date for practices yet. Brown said he hopes to get approval to begin practices before the expected Jan. 4 return to in-school classes. If not, he said they'll have to reschedule the first games of the season in order to get their practices in.

Likewise, the school closure has meant the cancellation of the Holiday Concerts, originally planned for Dec. 15 and 16. The concerts were to be limited, live in-person performances that would have been live-streamed, as well as recorded and posted to the school webpage. During the Nov. 25 school board meeting, music teacher Darryann Gonzalez suggested they may still be able to do a virtual concert online, which she has seen done effectively by other organizations.

The Lincoln School Board and staff plan to re-assess the situation Dec. 28 to determine whether they will re-open school Jan. 4 or to develop a course of action if the situation hasn't improved.

 

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