Aurora schools hope to get students in the buildings five days a week

Board of Education expected to give official approval to the reopening plan on Monday

APRIL HELMS Reporter
The Aurora City Schools are preparing for a new school year with added safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AURORA – Parents mulling whether to send their children back to Aurora’s school buildings next month will have two options: in-person instruction five days a week or taking all classes online.

“It is our belief that the best place for young people to gain an education is to be face-to-face with their teachers in the school classroom setting,” said Mike Roberto, who becomes superintendent Aug. 1. “At the same time, our No. 1 priority is the safety of our students.”

Parents were asked to make a decision by July 27 on whether they prefer in-person or online schooling, and whether they wish to use the school busing system. In addition the school board is expected to officially approve the plan July 27. Complete details are available at www.aurora-schools.org.

“This commitment is important because we will be reassigning teachers and setting up classrooms based on the needs of our families,” Roberto said. “As you can imagine, once the schedules and teachers are in place it will be very difficult to make changes. At the same time, the Aurora City School District is prepared to adapt to changes from the state which could include requirements to place all students on-line for periods of time throughout the school year.”

School Board President Gerald Kohanski said the plan “has been informally approved by the Board of Education and will be formally approved with a resolution at our regular meeting.”

“Mr. Roberto has led an excellent group of administrators, AEA educators, and a COVID-19 committee composed of citizens, parents, a Board member, and health experts in developing a very detailed and solid plan that will further our students' learning and protect their safety,” Kohanski said.

Roberto said that the district is “encouraging parents to drive their children to school when possible, but added, “we'll be providing bus transportation for students using our safety protocols.”

A survey done this past spring showed about 85% of the district’s families planned to send their children back to school, Roberto said.

The district plans to use a modified block schedule for students in sixth through 12th grade “in order to reduce the number of hall exchanges and limit the number of times young people are exposed to different people in any one day,” Roberto said. The teachers for prekindergarten through fifth grade will also take steps “to cut down on the number of different people in any one room.”

“Kindergarten through fifth-grade specials will also be limited due to restrictions such as no singing or playing of instruments inside,” Roberto said. “However, time will be set aside for specials as with a traditional schedule.”

Desks will be spaced four feet apart, Roberto said. In addition, student safety shields will be used in the first- through 12th-grade classrooms. He said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least three feet of separation between desks.

“In our elementary schools, we can safely space 24 desks per classroom,” Roberto said. “We will be limited to 20 desks per classroom in the middle school and in the high school.”

This means that while the elementary school students will see a teacher “100% of the time,” some classes at Harmon Middle School and the high school will have more than 20 students assigned to them, “which will mean there will be a need for us to get creative,” Roberto said.

“In classes at Harmon and in the Aurora High School that have more than 20 students, a determined number of students will not attend face to face class but will instead be assigned to an alternate setting in the building to attend class virtually,” Roberto said. “One such alternate setting could be the school library.”

The students will follow a rotating schedule so all students will be in the actual classroom three times for every one time they go to the alternative setting, Roberto said.

“This rotation will allow young people to meet with teachers face to face 75% of the time and virtually the other 25% of the time,” Roberto said. “However all students will still be at school 100% of the time.

“We believe this is a more preferred alternative than the various hybrid schedules which only allow for students to be in school 50% of the time.”

Roberto said daily health checks of students by their parents is important. This includes taking temperatures, and checking for signs such as a severe cough, rapid breathing, vomiting or loss of taste or smell.

“We’re requiring students that show any of these symptoms to stay home for that day,” Roberto said.

Students, staff and teachers will be required to wear masks, with limited exceptions, Roberto said. Students also will need to carry a water bottle because the water fountains will not be available for use.

Families of children in kindergarten through fifth grade opting for an all-online curriculum this year will be assigned an online teacher who will set up a schedule that will include both “synchronous and asynchronous learning,” Roberto said.

“Kindergarten through fifth-grade students learning online will be expected to be able to meet with their assigned teacher every day, five days a week,” Roberto said.

Families of kindergartners who opt for all-online courses will be registered as a part-time kindergarten student and will not be charged tuition.

Students in sixth through 12th grade in the online only program “will be assigned the same teacher, utilize the same Google classroom and will be following the same block schedule as their classmates at school, except they will be connected to the class via a live video link, Roberto said. In addition, teachers will be available for office hours either before or after school, based on their individual schedules

New student orientation for students in sixth through 12th grade is Aug. 25; the first day for all students is Aug. 26.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com