This opening slide from a presentation given to Ketchikan’s school board Tuesday portrays the district’s plan as a synthesis of official guidelines, educator input and community feedback. (Courtesy Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District)

Ketchikan’s elementary-schoolers may have some fresh options for places to go for distance learning during the school year.  That’s one takeaway from a Ketchikan School Board work session held Tuesday to discuss changes to the district’s back-to-school plan.

District officials emphasize that what they call the “Smart Start” plan is a work in progress. It has to balance two sometimes contradictory goals: providing a quality education for Ketchikan’s kids while also limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the community. And that means that no matter what, there will be big changes.

The basic framework, as of Tuesday, is this: Schools would be no more than half-full — that’s in an effort to keep six feet between students — and kids would be physically in classrooms two days a week at the most. One day per week, all students would do their classwork from home.

Schools would not return to full capacity until the pandemic is no longer a threat — that is, after a vaccine or treatment is developed. Federal officials say a vaccine could be ready by late this year or early next year.

Superintendent Beth Lougee laid out a few changes from a draft plan presented to the school board last month.

Students in elementary school and preschool will have a place to go when they’re not scheduled to be in school. So Lougee says that if kids are in school two days a week…

“They have the opportunity to go to what we’re calling our ‘extended learning opportunities’ — our ELO programs — for the other three during school time,” Lougee said.

The district would lease church buildings and staff them with teachers’ aides “to provide math, English skills, writing skills, art, music, band,” Lougee said. “We’re already working with the Rec Center to set up field trips, swimming lessons will still take place.”

Lougee says the district is also planning to move its district-wide distance learning day from Wednesday to Friday in response to parent feedback. A large majority of parents said in a district-wide survey they preferred Fridays for distance learning.

And Lougee says the district is considering other changes — under the draft plan, schools would move from 50% occupancy to 25% if there’s an uptick in coronavirus activity in Ketchikan. But that would mean disruptions to students’ routines — moving from two days a week in classrooms to one. So Lougee says officials are looking into alternatives.

“So instead of changing our students out of our schools — the number of them,” she said, “In my mind, it comes down to what […] we do within our schools.”

Lougee suggested the district could limit how much students move within the schools — so instead of students going from classroom to classroom, teachers would move from class to class instead.

“Instead of them going to the music teacher, and going down the hall, the music teacher would come to them for music. So limiting what’s happening in the building is one of the questions we have, that we are still working on,” Lougee said.

Lougee says limiting student movement is one idea that district staff will continue to research.