Exclusive Q&A

With Sycamore Schools Board of Education President Melissa Weiss regarding remote learning

Exclusive Q&A

Q: How will the school determine if we go virtual for more than one week after Thanksgiving?

A: We have had an approach since our healthy back to school plan was implemented this fall semester. We have a data team called DART, which stands for Data Assessment Risk Team, that looks at data primarily in two of our zip codes, 45242 and 45249, as well as what’s going on around us. They see how many COVID positive cases we have to make that assessment on a weekly basis. So, we would make that decision after the one week break to see if we have to stay in full remote. 

Q: Has Sycamore considered implementing random testing of a certain amount of staff and students from each building every week, and then depending on the percentage of positive tests, determining if the school remains closed or opened?

A: No, we haven’t had a specific conversation about random testing. We have really relied on our students and our families and our staff to really let us know if they have been tested if they’re not feeling well. 

Q: Who was involved in making the decision to go virtual for a week? Who had to approve the decision?

A: This has been a process of really a lot of people who have worked together to come up with solutions related to the pandemic from the beginning. But the person who really made that decision is our superintendent, Mr. Frank Forsthoefel. He has a team of people as well as the Board to consult with him to arrive at that decision. Making that decision to go full remote for the week after Thanksgiving was a preventative measure to ensure that schools can remain the safest place for students and staff after the Thanksgiving Break. Mr. Forsthoefel consulted with his DART team and his key administrators, and that was the conclusion that they came to. That was the best decision for Sycamore, to go full remote the week after Thanksgiving. 

Q: What factors were considered when deciding to go virtual for the week following Thanksgiving?

A: The main factor that we have always put at the forefront of all of the decisions that get made is the safety and the health of our students and our staff. So, that is always the first thing that we think about when we’re making decisions. 

Q: How did the district land upon the duration of one week of full virtual school?

A: That was really in consultation with our DART team. And on our DART team, we have two physicians who are pediatricians that live in our district and have students in our district as well as a person who is a director of public health in the Tri-State area, who also is a parent who lives in the district. In addition to key administrators, a nurse from our district, Mrs. Julie Ferron is on that committee, as well as a board member, Mr. Forsthoefel. They were talking about, based on their clinical experience and what is going on with COVID, in order to keep everyone safe, the best course of action is to take that one week out of face-to-face school and have everyone go remote.

Q: What is the purpose of the week of virtual schooling?

A: The reality is that we as a school district, although we are encouraging people to follow CDC guidelines and recommendations for Thanksgiving, not gathering except for your immediate family, really staying indoors and not socializing with people, we really can’t control that. So, that one week after Thanksgiving Break to have it be fully remote gives us that buffer that we need so that when students and staff come back to school, we are very hopeful that we will continue to create this healthy environment for our students and staff. I think that one thing that would be very interesting for your readers to know is that we have had zero in-person school transmission for COVID-19. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had students and staff that have tested positive for COVID-19, but we’ve had no transmissions within our district, which is good. 

Q: Will we have a week of virtual school after winter break?

A: I don’t know the answer to that question yet. We’re taking this day by day, so that could be a possibility but I couldn’t commit to that. 

Q: How will families extending their travel plans into the week of virtual school affect students later regarding COVID-19 numbers and possibly switching back to fully virtual school?

A: I mean it really depends on how much risk they’re willing to take, it depends on when you say travel, what does that mean? Does that mean they’re getting on an airplane, or they’re driving or they’re gathering with other people that they haven’t seen for a while? I mean, time will tell. I can’t really predict what that’s going to look like. 

Q: Did the board approve the decisions for all Sycamore schools to go fully remote for a week after Thanksgiving?

A: That didn’t actually require Board approval. But, the Board is fully supportive of that decision. 

Q: How can parents and students make the most of their time in virtual school?

A: I’ll just say that this has really been a challenging time for everyone and so our families that have been face-to-face. I just want to say that their students have done an amazing job following all of our protocols with wearing a mask, and washing their hands, and keeping socially-distanced. We know that a lot of that comes from not just our staff implementing these things in our buildings, but it also comes from parents setting expectations with their kids for that. Our students have just done an amazing job. In addition, our staff has created a really positive environment for our students. So, going from face-to-face to remote, we also have about 40% of our students who have been virtual this whole year, all I would say is be patient. Our teachers are going to set up classes and continue teaching. We may hit a few bumps in the road but our teachers and our staff are committed to make this work. I will encourage everyone to be patient, but it will be fine. 

Q: Could only certain buildings be reopened or be closed later depending on COVID-19 cases of each school?

A: Well, that’s actually always been a possibility, even before this week after Thanksgiving was going to be fully remote. What happens is, every Thursday our DART team meets and they look at the data. It would be really conceivable that we would have one building in particular that has quite a number of COVID-positive cases that could potentially require us to close just that building. That could realistically happen as well after Thanksgiving but we hope not. 

Q: Should students prepare to stay virtual for longer than one week?

A: No, at this point we have every intention to go back into the model that we’ve been in for the entire fall semester which is some of our students are face-to-face and some are virtual. We anticipate doing that the week after the week after Thanksgiving, starting December 7. We are planning on going back to what we have been doing all of the fall semester.

Q: Will current virtual students experience any change in their daily school routine?

A: No. They’ve been doing that all semester, so they will just continue on that path. 

Q: What does the board have to say to virtual kids contemplating switching back to in-person school for the second semester, regarding scheduling and spacing concerns?

A: This was part of our last Board meeting, and you can go online and look at the presentation that was given, the Healthy Aves presentation, or what we’re doing for the second semester. I said earlier that the most important thing to our district has always been the health and safety of our students and staff. The second thing that was really important to us was the ability to give our families a choice, whether they wanted their child to be face-to-face or to be virtual. So, what I would say to families who are contemplating moving their students: if your child is doing well in the learning environment that they’re in, I would keep them in that environment. I think that because we can’t make any guarantee about teachers if people are moving all around, it’s not going to be realistic that you’re going to have the same teacher. So if you’re happy in the mode that you’re in, I would say stay there. 

Q: What do you think about students who are spending the virtual week as an extended break/travel period?

A: Everyone has to make those choices and those decisions for themselves, I just hope that everyone would really heed the caution and some of the advice from the CDC and really limit your exposure so that we can all get back to school. 

Q: How have teachers had influence on this decision?

A: Our building principals have been extremely effective in talking to all of our teachers and getting that information back to Mr. Forsthoefel and his team. We really value the opinion of our teachers because they’re out there every day teaching our students, so their voice is a very important component of how we make decisions in our district. 

Q: What help will be offered to teachers that are used to teaching in-person and now must quickly switch to online teaching?

A: That has always been a possibility from the beginning of the fall semester that depending on how the COVID cases in our particular area; if they are going up, we could go full remote and make the announcement on Friday for the next week. We know that our teachers have been in a system where they know that they would have to prepare lesson plans. So in terms of some of the technical things, we also have an amazing IT department. So if we have a teacher, for example, that is usually in the face-to-face model and this week after Thanksgiving they’re obviously going to be remote. If they have issues with their connectivity, or their broadband service and things like that, our IT department is going to be there to help and troubleshoot and make sure they can connect with their students.

Q: Do you have any well wishes for Sycamore families, students, and teachers?

A: I do. I would just like to say that we have an amazing superintendent who has really guided us through this process and helped us make decisions that, like I said before, keep the health and safety of our staff and students at the forefront. We have amazing building principals and teachers who have really embraced this challenging time. I would like to wish our staff, our teachers, our leaders, our Sycamore students, and our families the happiest of Thanksgivings. Stay safe and stay healthy and go Aves!