The Purchase Line school board approved a health and safety plan for the reopening of the school this fall at a special meeting held Monday.
Though the plan was approved as presented, superintendent Shawn Ford stressed that the proposal is evolving as new guidelines and research are released, even being updated as recently as a few hours after the first draft was sent.
“This is probably the beginning document,” Ford said. “This will be a very living document that will continue to be looked at … and be revised as we move forward. We expect this to change as we go.”
The plan is based on guidelines as they are now.
“This is a community and district plan,” he said. “We used research and survey results from the community as well as medical information from professionals to help piece this together. This is an ongoing process.”
Ford said the plan highlights three different pathways to opening the school again for the academic year.
The first would be traditional learning. This plan would be implemented with kids returning physically to school, but with safety measures in place. This is the preferred method school officials are hoping to achieve should the guidelines allow it.
“The research is clear,” said Ford. “Kids need to be back in school. They do better in school than they do by remote. It’s less of a burden on families. (Being away) is potentially detrimental to their social, emotional and physical health. Virtual learning has its place, but it does not replace the brick and mortar that our teachers and support staff provide our kids.”
Should this pathway be the one implemented, there are measures in place to ensure the safety of students as well as the sanitation and disinfection of the school. High-touch areas such as water fountains, doorknobs and other common areas will be cleaned twice a day. Desks in classrooms will also be cleaned frequently. Teachers and staff will be provided supplies to do so and will be trained prior to the start of school on proper cleaning techniques.
Personal hygiene will also be encouraged. There will be signs placed around the school encouraging frequent and proper hand washing, and hand sanitizer will be available in common areas throughout the school.
Classrooms will be arranged to allow the maximum amount of social distancing possible. If the required 6 feet of distance is able to be implemented, students will not be required to wear masks while at their desks, which will all be placed so they are forward facing. In areas where proper social distancing is not achievable, students will be required to wear face coverings. Should a student not have a mask or covering, the school has a supply and will make them available for those without.
Classrooms will also be carefully ventilated, and filters for these systems will be replaced more frequently. Students will also be allowed to bring in water bottles from home to cut down on the use of water fountains.
The issue of the cafeteria was also brought up, with several options under discussion.
“We’re looking at the possibility of offering pre-packaged, to-go-style meals,” Ford said. “Since you can’t have a mask on while you’re eating we need to find a way to get students eating while properly distanced. And that’s one option we’re looking at.”
The district is also working on a system that will allow students who receive lunch to put their PIN in either verbally or by a scan so they don’t need to touch a keypad.
Opening in this pathway, the school will also have an updated visitor and volunteer policy that would restrict non-essential visits.
“We all know that there are parents out there that need to come to the school from time to time,” said Ford. “Their kid forgot something and they need to drop it off or they need to pick something up. So we’re looking at a designated pick-up, drop-off area to keep people coming into the school at a minimum.”
Gym and recess will still be held, but social distancing will be enforced. Teachers and monitors are encouraged to get kids outside with the approval of school safety officers. However, they will be asked to keep the sharing of equipment to a minimum and any equipment that is used will need to be properly cleaned and sanitized after each use.
Transportation for this pathway will be conducted as normal with some limitations. Face coverings will be required at all times while on the bus.
“We’re limiting the buses to two students per seat,” Ford said. “Siblings and families will be required to ride together as much as they possibly can.”
The buses will be cleaned and sanitized, with the transportation company having their own plan in place to do so.
Should school open in this fashion, parents will be required to assess their children each morning, asking them if they feel well and checking them for any symptoms of COVID-19.
“We encourage faculty to do the same,” Ford said. “If you wake up in the morning and feel even a little bit sick or have even one of the symptoms, stay home and keep yourself and others safe.”
Temperature screenings will be done at the school as well. Should students have a high temperature or if they begin to feel ill during the day, they will go to the nurse’s office where isolation rooms have been set up.
If someone at the school tests positive, they are not to return to school until after the required isolation. If someone in a student’s family tests positive, they are to let the district know. The district will, in the case of any positive cases, identify where they were and contact trace and those who had been in contact will be required to self isolate.
Further details on this plan and what should be done will be posted online once it comes closer to the start of school.
If for any reason, whether a positive case is identified in the school district, the county goes back to a higher color on the safety scale, or if a parent or guardian does not feel safe sending their student back to school physically, other options are in place.
“In case of a schoolwide shutdown, we are prepared to go back to remote learning,” Ford said.
Remote learning, like the school did at the end of the previous year, will be the failsafe should the school shut down and is the second pathway option for starting school in the fall. This would also be the option for students who leave school temporarily due to illness, even if it’s not for coronavirus.
“The curriculum available to these students is parallel,” said Ford. “So that means the curriculum they would get in school, is what they would get virtually.”
The third pathway is cyber instruction with an established program.
“Some of our parents out there, some of our kids out there, are at high risk if they get the virus,” said Ford. “So we have to be able to work with those families that may not be able to send their (child) to school because they or a family member are at high risk. The cyber pathway, for them, is to give them the same education they would if they came here.”
This option would be for students who do not return physically to the school for the semester or year. “It’s a little bit different than the virtual remote (learning,” he said. “They get the classes right there from the cyber platform. But they would still get a Purchase Line diploma if they complete classes in this cyber format.”
Ford reiterated that they have the utmost hope to provide an education in person to all of their students while still remaining flexible to the students’ needs and the ever changing world.
“Safety and education will always be our first priority,” he said.