Fairfield will return to all in-person classes

Members of the Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors meet Monday night over Zoom. The board voted 6-1 to have students return to fully in-person classes five days per week in October. (Photo submitted)
Members of the Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors meet Monday night over Zoom. The board voted 6-1 to have students return to fully in-person classes five days per week in October. (Photo submitted)

By Andy Hallman, The Union

The Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors voted Monday to have students return to class full-time in October.

The board decided to start by having students in the two elementary schools, Pence and Washington, return on Oct. 5, then wait three weeks before having the middle and high school students return on Oct. 26.

The vote was 6-1 in favor of the motion, with board member John McKerley casting the only no vote. The board members who voted for the motion were Frank Broz, Kelly Scott, Christi Welsh, Margo Von Strohuber, Tim Bower and Debi Plum.

The district has had students go to class only half of the school week, and the other half the students spend doing online coursework. Half the student body goes to class Monday, Tuesday and every other Wednesday morning, and the other half goes to class Thursday, Friday and every other Wednesday morning.

Some students, just less than 20 percent of the student body of 318, have elected to take classes fully online. They will not be affected by the changes in October.

Superintendent Laurie Noll mentioned that teachers have spent Wednesday afternoons focusing on the online students, and recommended maintaining that time for online instruction. The board agreed to keep Wednesday afternoons reserved for online coursework.

Plum, the board’s president, was initially skeptical of the proposal to send the students back to class full-time because she worried about their safety. She preferred the slower timetable suggested by the administration, but came around to the view that the timeline ultimately chosen would be acceptable for the principals and teachers.

Noll said her recommendation to the board was to bring the students back more gradually, starting with Washington Elementary, then waiting three weeks before bringing Pence students back, then another three weeks for middle school students and another three weeks after that before the high school students returned.

Broz said the main reason he voted for the motion was that community spread of COVID-19 has decreased significantly since the first week of school. Also, he said the board had better data to work with now than it did over the summer when it had only county-wide data instead of data for each school district.

McKerley said the reason he voted against the motion was that he believes a five-day schedule carries risk and uncertainty.

“Our county and district numbers are undeniably good, which is tentative proof of the benefits of hybrid,” McKerley said. “But we’re not an island, and the numbers in surrounding counties and the state are nowhere as good.”

McKerley said he fears the virus will spread even more rapidly in the winter with everyone inside.

“Thankfully, the plan passed last night moves slowly and cautiously, and the online-only students give us some hybrid-like benefits,” he said. “But, to my mind, we’re still getting very little in return for exponentially greater risk to students, staff and community.”

Scott said at the end of the meeting he believed the board had reached a good compromise between those who wanted a quick return to class and those who wanted a more cautious approach.

“It’s been really positive how well we’ve worked together as a board and how the community has supported it,” Scott said. The board also talked about how to avoid “bouncing back and forth” between in-person vs. online classes, which the board agreed would be disruptive to teachers, parents and students, so it established metrics to determine when the district will return to a hybrid model, and when it will come out of it.

If the combined number of COVID positive cases plus individuals in quarantine reaches 7-9 percent of the school population, the district will revert to its hybrid model for at least 10 school days. Once in the hybrid model, if the positive cases plus quarantine number falls below 4 percent, the district will go back to fully in-person classes.