With a new year about to start, Harrison School Superintendent Stewart Pratt hosted a Zoom conference Thursday night to give parents an idea about how the school year will look, at least as of that night.

Pratt said school is set to begin Wednesday, Aug. 26, for grades K-12. They will start in the middle of the week because a full week is often difficult for preschool, kindergarten and first grade students to handle.

Preschool students will go to the former Woodland Heights Elementary, which was converted to a preschool beginning with the 2019-20 school year. All kindergarten students will attend the former Eagle Heights Elementary, which is new this year. Grades 1-4 will attend either Forest Heights Elementary or Skyline Heights Elementary. Grades 5-8 will be at the Middle School and grades 9-12 at the High School.

Students will have two basic choices to begin the school year.

Pratt said parents who are leery of sending children to the physical school can choose off-site learning.

“Off-site learning means that they will be learning from home with Harrison teachers and Harrison curriculum and Harrison assessments,” Pratt said.

The other choice is on-site learning, which is a normal day of school in classrooms. But with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the district might have to move to an off-site model.

“So,” Pratt said, “we could go back and forth.”

The off-site model could also be utilized in case of inclement weather, Pratt said.

For the off-site model, there would be synchronous or asynchronous learning. Synchronous means students would log in to a class taught on campus, while asynchronous would be a cloud-based system that allows students to download the pieces necessary and work at their own pace.

Pratt said it’s his belief that the best place for grades K-1 to learn to read is at school. As such, he hopes that parents of those students will send them to school. There will be some instances when they can’t attend class, so synchronous learning will be a must for those grades. Upper grade students may want to use the asynchronous method more.

In addressing the school calendar, he pointed out that classes are scheduled for Sept. 19, Oct. 1, Nov. 14 and Dec. 12, all Saturdays, as well as the first three days of Thanksgiving break.

Pratt said there won’t be classes on campus those days. There will be asynchronous projects students will complete with Chromebooks at any time or anywhere. That will allow for the semester to end before Christmas with the start of school moved later in August.

After his presentation, Pratt took questions from people watching via Zoom. One parent said she didn’t feel good about sending her children to school due to class sizes.

Pratt said the number of students in a classroom will be determined more on the amount of space in rooms as opposed to a set number of students. Some high school classrooms are much larger, so distancing will be possible. In those rooms that are smaller, spacing might not be possible, so masks and hand sanitizer will be used more frequently.

Teachers and administrators have been given direction that if sufficient space is available, they have the authority to give students a “mask break” in which they can remove masks for a time.

“Please don’t think that students are wearing a mask every minute of every day all day at school,” Pratt said.

Another parent asked if the district has taken any steps to allay any fears younger students may have about going to classes amid the pandemic.

Pratt said the first three days of school will contain discussion of routines students will follow to keep as much space between them as possible. He said the biggest concerns will be entering the building, on the playground and serving meals.

“We’re already working on those routines,” Pratt said.

Another parent asked if a student would be considered absent if they had a fever in the morning and weren’t allowed to enter a building.

Pratt said attendance used to be about “seat time,” but that’s not so much the case this year. In the coming year, students who do have a fever or might miss for another reason would be allowed to do their work in the off-site model.

“It’s about learning,” Pratt said. “It’s not about seat time.”

He used the example of a student who is required to stay home for two weeks under quarantine as a safety measure. If the student becomes disengaged, not responding to messages or phone calls and not doing necessary work, that would be considered an absence.

Pratt said he is encouraging parents to stay engaged with their children to make sure they are staying in contact with their teachers and doing their work as required.

One parent complimented Pratt on the job that staff at the school have done to handle such a difficult situation.

Pratt said staff have been working hard and they are finding some positives coming out of all the alterations being made — they refer to it as “COVID linings” like silver linings in dark clouds.

There will be some alterations made for seating in the cafeteria and the like so children don’t have to be around the same other children all the time.

He acknowledged that school is a social environment. Staff are trying to strike a balance between learning and allowing that social engagement to continue so school isn’t drudgery.

“My point is, kids love to be with other kids,” Pratt said. “We know that.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pratt said the recording of Thursday night’s Zoom presentation will be uploaded to the school’s website at harrisongoblins.org for anyone who wasn’t able to watch live. They also plan to include the questions asked and answered in a chat box that night.

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