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Fri, Sept. 24

Grand Canyon Governing Board discusses learning options for spring semester
Board hears four options for upcoming semester

As Grand Canyon School prepares for winter break, governing board members discussed potential learning options for the spring semester. (Abigail Kessler/WGCN)

As Grand Canyon School prepares for winter break, governing board members discussed potential learning options for the spring semester. (Abigail Kessler/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — During the Dec. 9 Grand Canyon School Governing Board meeting, board members discussed potential next steps for the upcoming semester that would ensure both student and staff safety as well as success in learning.

Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the school has been using a distance learning model since last spring. Surveys sent out before the beginning of the 2020/2021 school year showed a majority of families preferred learning online rather than an in-person or hybrid learning model. The school board has met regularly to assess this plan throughout the semester, each time reaching the conclusion to continue with online learning.

Tentative second semester learning options for GCS

  1. In-person — four day weeks starting Feb. 1. Additional safety precautions, such as masks, testing and physical distancing will be taken.
  2. In-person (cohort model) — four day weeks starting Feb. 1. Classrooms to be rearranged to best support physical distancing.
  3. Hybrid — some combination of in-person and online learning. Students might alternate weeks, or two-day blocks (alternating Fridays), or core subjects.
  4. Continued distance learning — school continues to be online while GCS District works on additional ways to support students.

At their Nov. 18 meeting, the board again discussed a potential reopening and decided, because of the approaching holiday season and the potential for a rise in cases, it would be best to continue with online learning, at least until the start of the next semester.

During the Dec. 9 meeting, Principal Matt Yost presented four potential options for learning models in the upcoming semester.

The first two options discussed different approaches to full time in-person learning. These would involve four-day school weeks and would start Feb. 1.

In the first plan, the school would return to something very close to the school’s previous operations. Physical distancing and masks would be used as much as possible, along with frequent testing.

The second option would do the same, except classes would be rearranged into smaller groups. As more students return for in person instruction, more of these cohorts would be formed, with the idea of creating an additional level of safety.

The third option presented was a hybrid schedule between online and in-person learning. Either two days on and alternate Fridays, alternating weeks or creating a block schedule around core subjects. This would make the cohort arrangement from plan two a little easier to implement, keeping students safer and allowing better classroom coverage. It would mean more work for teachers, though, who might have to instruct three separate learning approaches at a time.

The fourth option presented was to continue distance learning, working with the community to create additional support for students. This would involve the least risk of spread, but mean continuing to have students deal with the challenges of learning remotely.

All plans involving any return to in-person instruction are contingent on COVID-19 metrics improving in the area. Yost said the benefits include additional support available with campus learning along with additional resources, including a stable internet access.

The main concerns, however, are an increased risk of spreading the disease, and potential problems with maintaining both distance and in-person learning with limited staff. The district is also considering staggering reopening dates to give students time to adjust and to increase safety.

Regardless of which option is selected, the board said it plans to continue to offer support and resources to families who wish to continue online learning, or who are struggling with a particular approach.

The board plans to conduct a survey similar to the one from the start of the school year to better understand the opinions of school families.

According to Thomas O’Connor, an administrator at Grand Canyon School, the COVID-19 data for both Coconino County and the district are cause for concern. Cases are rising in the area (more than 300/100,000) and positivity rates are still high (7 percent as of Dec 9).

No final plans have been made at this time. The board plans to meet again in early January to discuss next steps for the spring semester.

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