Springfield students in K-8 signed up for the hybrid learning model will move next month from two days of in person learning to four days.

They will attend Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will continue to be an all-virtual learning day to allow for deep cleaning of school buildings. The change will start Nov. 2 for kindergarten through second grade and Nov. 9 for grades 3-8.

No changes are planned for preschool, grades 9-12 and students in any grade signed up for full-time virtual learning during the fall semester. Preschool students already had the option to attend in person four days a week.

“The district promised parents and staff in August that we would evaluate data at the end of the first quarter to determine if we could add more days of in-person learning in the classroom,” said Superintendent John Jungmann, in a news release. “Our goal has always been to welcome more students back to school as soon as we had gathered enough data to determine it was safe to proceed.”

The finalized plan announced Wednesday differs from a proposal unveiled last week to return all hybrid students in preschool to eighth grade to five days of in person learning, starting in late October.

Stephen Hall, chief communications officer, said the Oct. 6 proposal was tweaked based on feedback from parents — who called and emailed this week — as well as meetings with school leaders and the Springfield National Education Association. The teachers’ union was elected to represent multiple employee groups at the bargaining table.

In an Oct. 7 tweet, the Springfield NEA wrote, in part: “We advocated to stay the course and re-evaluate after first semester, as did our nurses unit.” The News-Leader reached out to the union multiple times for more information with no success.

The re-entry plan

Springfield, and other districts across Missouri, halted in-person learning in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues.

In August, prior to the start of the 2020-21 year, the district offered two options: Full-time virtual learning or a hybrid model that includes two days of learning and three days of virtual learning.

The 25 percent of students who opted for full-time virtual learning this fall will remain in that model through December. The 75 percent who elected to learn in the hybrid model will go from two days to four days of in-person learning.

Next month, the district will outline the learning options that will be available during the spring semester.

All students and employees have been required to wear masks. Other efforts including social distancing, hand washing and extra cleaning have been in place.

More: SPS teachers say pandemic has ‘doubled the workload’ and many ‘overwhelmed’

‘Safety protocols are working’

The district has logged nearly 200 cases of COVID-19 among students and employees and more than 1,200 students and staff have been quarantined since the first days of class on Aug. 24.

Jungmann said contact tracing of positive cases suggested limited spreading inside the school setting, indicating most exposures happened outside of school.

“Data from the first quarter indicates that our health and safety protocols are working to limit exposure to COVID-19 in the learning environment. Transmission of COVID-19 within the school setting, especially among our younger students, is very low,” said Jungmann, in the release.

“We believe the ongoing academic and social needs of our students warrant an adjustment at this time and moving to a four-day week will provide much-needed support for our students.”

The goal of the current hybrid model, with students attending just Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, was to reduce class sizes and make social distancing easier to achieve.

He said last week returning to more in-person days of learning will increase class sizes and likely result in more quarantines when there is a positive case.

More: Springfield schools offer free flu vaccine for students during pandemic

Health director weighs in

Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, issued a statement in support of more in person learning days for younger students. 

“There are no easy answers in this pandemic. However, we are encouraged by the low disease transmission rates among those in eighth grade and under,” he wrote. “This is important evidence as we weigh the harm of the disease versus the harm for those who risk falling behind or not accessing important resources for their health and well-being.”

As part of the Wednesday announcement, the district provided schedule details for the students served in gifted education and special education programs.

  • Springfield Scholars Program: Beginning Nov. 9, students enrolled in the in person option at Central High School will attend in person four days a week. No change for students in full-time virtual.
  • WINGS: The pull-out gifted program will receive virtual services on Wednesdays, beginning Nov. 4.
  • Parents of children with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, will be contacted directly, starting this week, to discuss modifications.

The lawsuit

This summer, three Springfield parents represented by attorney Kristi Fulnecky sued the district over its re-entry plan.

The lawsuit filed against the superintendent, the school board and the district alleges, among other things, that the plan violates Missouri and U.S. constitutions, the Civil Rights Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A temporary restraining order sought in the case was denied.

More: Fulnecky adds new arguments to SPS lawsuit requesting more in-person classes

Fulnecky told the News-Leader last week that even if the district returned to five days of in person learning — which her clients want — the suit will continue.

“It is proceeding to trial,” she said.

Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com.

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