According to a recent Owensboro Public Schools survey, families who responded were nearly split down the middle on whether they wanted the district to “stay the course” or return to in-person classes early. More than 70% of staff responses preferred to return on Oct. 12 as planned.
The OPS Board of Education discussed those responses, as well other factors they are weighing regarding the decision on when to return, during a luncheon on Friday.
For now, OPS is still on track to begin in-person classes on an A/B schedule after Fall Break. Superintendent Matthew Constant said they hope to announce more definite plans by the end of next week. Gov. Andy Beshear is expected to address school reopenings on Monday.
“As of right now we are just going to kind of hold our course,” Constant said. “It depends on if there is another recommendation or mandate. I have no advance warning, I don’t know.”
The recent survey sent to OPS families produced various preferences at each education level.
- Parents with an elementary-age student
- 38% want to stay the course
- 56% want to return early
- Parents with a middle school-age student
- 55% want to stay the course
- 40% want to return early
- Parents with a high school-age student
- 47% want to stay the course
- 45% want to return early
Among 95 staff responses, 72% wanted to say the course while 24% preferred to return early.
Similar reasoning and concerns for each option were shared by staff and families.
Reasons to wait until Oct. 12 included sticking to a plan amid all the chaos and stress; health and safety concerns of returning to early; virtual options going well; and the ability to monitor other districts that do return early.
Reasons to come back early included socio-emotional learning; learning gaps widening; child care or family issues; and mental health concerns.
“We have to look at how it is affecting all of our stakeholders,” Constant said. “The family issue is really front and center to us. We know they are struggling, but we also know that some feel like it’s too soon. For staff, we have to have staff that are willing to report and do their job. If they feel, for whatever reason, that it’s not healthy and safe then they are going to have misgivings about reporting to do their job. All of that has to be taken into account.”
Constant said OPS has been able to talk with and monitor other districts that have already returned or will in the coming weeks.
Owensboro Catholic Schools began in-person instruction five days a week in late August. However, Constant noted OCS has more space to allow for better distancing.
Instead, he pointed to Bowling Green Independent and Warren County school districts for their similar size to OPS. He said while there have been cases reported, it has not led to the closure of any of those schools yet.
Daviess County Public Schools are allowing K-8th grade students to return to an A/B in-person schedule next week.
“We will talk to our neighbors, for sure,” Constant said. “We’ve talked to Catholic and been in contact with them. I’m really looking forward to when Daviess County goes back so we can learn from them too. We’re taking into account so many different variables. It’s hard to pin down on one issue.”
Constant said allowing younger students to return sooner than high schoolers is a consideration, but no decisions have be made.
“I think that is a consideration that we might think about,” he said. “We’re not going to commit to anything. When you think about which of our learners we are most concerned about, it’s always the younger ones. If there is ever a scenario where we can maybe bring back certain grade levels at a 100%, we would for sure consider that.”
At the elementary levels, OPS has begun bringing back small groups of students at a time for short periods a couple days a week. The decision was made in part because they are the students most in need of the in-person instruction, but it also allows the district to get a taste for what a return to the classroom looks like.
“I think that is a good, gradual next step for us,” he said. “I applaud everyone else who has made the decisions for their district. I would remind everyone that every district’s needs and the people they serve are different. That’s why we are just stepping into the process.”