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JPS Sets Benchmarks For In-Person Return

Jamestown Public Schools administrators have committed themselves to two-week benchmarks in bringing back more students to the Jamestown High School building, Kevin Whitaker, superintendent, told parents during a Friday morning Facebook Live question-and-answer session.

“We’re trying to go in these two-week segments,” he said. “The first two-week segment is ending today, roughly, to get back to school and make sure our model works without having significant issues. That includes significant COVID issues. We have the first two weeks under our belt and now we’ll go into the second two weeks and that’s when sports are going to be started.”

Low-risk athletics are scheduled to begin on Monday, he said during the livestream. Two weeks from now, should everything go according to plan, more extracurricular groups — such as the school’s marching band program — will be able to start up.

“I want to make sure we get through two weeks of kids coming back for sports and get a couple of weeks under our belt there before we start thinking about extracurriculars. We’ve got a big sports group and I know we have a big (marching) band group, too, and we can only go one at a time with things like this. I’d like to aim for big groups like band to start around two weeks from the 21st.”

In the interim, the high school is hoping to bring back “singleton” classes, such as those enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.

“I have been in discussion with (high school principal) Mr. (Dana) Williams and things have been going really well in talking to teachers about getting those singleton classes, those Advanced Placement courses back, then ultimately into a hybrid model for folks in 10th through 12th grades to make sure that they get back,” Whitaker said. “That’s our procedure, the general gist for getting kids back. And if our numbers are low, we don’t have any cases on sight, have low county numbers and low southern county numbers, we will continue to bring kids back.”

Whitaker also addressed issues teachers have seen with attendance on remote learning days for students.

“What teachers are doing is that we are tracking attendance on what is a normal in-person attendance process,” he said. “That doesn’t exactly fit super well for our remote days. What we’re asking for parents or kids is that if they’re participating in a meaningful or substantive way, they’ll get credit for that class.”

“There have been a few hiccups,” he explained. “In a normal class when it’s face-to-face, you get 24 hours to do it and you turn around and the teacher has a discussion with you. In remote, sometimes those deadlines are earlier — a student might have questions and might wait for their parents to get home and we don’t want those kids to be marked absent. Some of those tweaks we have to iron out.”

There is a benefit to evaluating these issues, Whitaker said.

“I’m glad that we can focus on that now because it means we got our logistics to start working and now we can really start in on instruction,” he said.

During the question-and-answer portion, one parent asked if distance learning could become an option in the future.

“Distance learning we are committed to until the end of the first semester,” Whitaker answered. “What I’m hoping is by the end of that time, we’ll actually know what’s going on. Things will either look a lot more normal or they’ll look a lot crazier. I can’t predict. I can hope and I hope that we will in fact be back by then. If we’re not and we still have to maintain this kind of setting, we will still have the distance learning option.”

For a family with specific health issues, though, Whitaker said there could be other options.

“That option is always open for students who have health concerns in the same way that what we called home-bound instruction — there’s a carve out in the law for that with students with seriously medical issues,” he said. “We would be open to discussing that possibility if you have medical concerns.”

Whitaker, meanwhile, complimented parents on how well their children have adhered to the mitigation guidelines.

“I’ve been around schools and kids have been doing really well,” he said. “If you, parents, have been out there practicing with them with masks and hand washing and social distancing, you’ve been doing a great job. The kids have been fantastic.”

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