“Everybody’s gonna have to be really flexible here, you know, depending upon circumstances,” said Harrison Kleiner, board president at Bear River Charter School.
There are roughly 2,390 students enrolled in charter schools in Cache County — about one-third as many as students are in Logan City School District, and 13% as many as in Cache County School District.
Because those students are spread out in relatively small classes over six schools in the valley, local administrators said charter schools are able to offer much more flexibility in reopening plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the biggest challenges is to learn how to still educate in an environment that is now changed,” said Shem Smith, the principal of Thomas Edison Charter School-North. “The rules have changed, the expectations of society have changed, and the responses that we’re getting from families have changed. So we’re trying to keep up with those and meet the needs of the people that are looking for our program.”
While every charter school in the valley has its own way of doing things, increasing flexibility has been crucial for each plan, as has been offering an online or in-person component.
A hybrid of traditional, online
Some K-8 charters, like BRCS and the two Thomas Edison Charter Schools, are trying to get kids back to the classroom as often and as safely as possible.
“Obviously, we’re relying heavily, I admit, on sanitation and people just following those good hygiene practices, parents keeping kids home when they’re sick,” Smith said. “There’re just a lot of those mitigating factors that if we all took the responsibility to make sure that we’re doing, I think we could get on top of this and still be able to have a successful and productive school year.”
On top of increased focus on cleaning and hygiene, Thomas Edison has put dividers and traffic-direction markers in hallways and staggered lunch and recess times to limit the number of students mingling at a time.
Roughly 6% of the more than 1,000 students enrolled in the Thomas Edison campuses have chosen to complete the year only with online instruction.
At BRCS — with about 170 students — class sizes are already capped at 20 students and between 15-20% of parents have opted for an online-only plan.
“Everyone else opted for some version of opening physically, you know, sending kids to school, and the most popular was the full regular Monday to Friday schedule,” Kleiner said. “Our hybrid face-to-face plan, we think, managed to accommodate both of those interests.”
While students are able to attend in-person classes Monday to Friday, lessons will also be taught via Zoom or Canvas for those at home, which is meant to provide a buffer for when children are sick or in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. Teachers will be given the same flexibility to teach from home, if needed, with classroom aides available to manage students who come for in-person learning.
Smith said the more traditional, five-days-a-week setting is a draw for many parents, and roughly half-a-dozen people have enrolled in the last two weeks.
But there are also students who unenrolled from both schools with parents preferring to homeschool on their own.
“Obviously, no one choice is meeting just the population’s needs,” Smith said. “And that’s why we’re seeing some transition between our school to other schools, and from other schools to our school.”
Alternative days, but still fluid
Several parents with children enrolled in LCSD asked the Board of Education to consider implementing an A/B schedule rather than the half-day plan that the board ultimately approved for the “soft opening,” but Superintendent Frank Schofield said the size of the district made the option costly and unsustainable in the long run should a return to normal be delayed beyond Sept. 11.
Charter schools, however, are basically a self-contained district within each building (with the exception of the two campuses for Thomas Edison), giving them the opportunity to try such plans, like InTech Collegiate Academy (formerly InTech Collegiate High School — one of two high school charter options in Logan) and K-8 charters the Edith Bowen Laboratory School and The Center for Creativity, Innovation and Discovery.
“We have a small building, and we’ve grown a bit this year since we added seventh and eighth grade,” said InTech’s Principal Jason Stanger. “And really, we can’t even approximate social distancing unless we do an alternating schedule where some students are in the building one day, and some are not.”
Similar to the other local charters, InTech and CCID are also offering an online option for students, as well as giving families the option to fluidly transition back and forth — whether in quarantine due to COVID or safety concerns — with teachers either live-streaming or recording lectures for those at home to complete.
“Either way, teaching is a huge workload,” said Laura Banda, with CCID.
But most parents at the three schools operating on an alternate-day plan supported the A/B hybrids, according to administrators.
“And that was also the model that our staff felt made the most sense,” said Nate Justis, the principal at EBLS.
Justis recognized there needed to be exceptions, such as students with disabilities and parents looking for a more traditional schedule, who would be given a four-day-a-week option. He said only about 2% of parents had expressed interest in such a plan, and 5% said they’d like the online-only option.
Classes at Edith Bowen will be capped to “pods” of 10-14 students, with only two pods per grade level on campus at a time. And since it’s housed on the Utah State University campus, Justis said teachers are also exploring options for outdoor activities and excursions — which is a “big part of the culture at Edith Bowen.”
“These opportunities won’t be streamed, necessarily,” he said. “If those students who are opting for at-home only want to join us, they would be welcome to do so.”
As charter schools are a form of public school, they are all under the governor’s mandate to require masks, as well as local health department’s guidelines.