New Albany city school trustees approved a return-to-school plan this past week that calls for classes to resume Aug. 6 in as close to normal as possible, under the circumstances with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have a good shot at being back with traditional school,” Superintendent Dr. Lance Evans said. “But traditional school is not what it used to be.”
The plan actually includes three sub-plans, each designed for a level of virus outbreak: low spread, moderate spread or substantial spread.
- The “low spread” has students and staff physically in the schools using PPE.
- The “moderate spread” would call for students being in schools a limited amount of time on alternate days and learning remotely otherwise.
- “Substantial spread” means schools will be closed for 14 days or more and virtual learning would be used.
“The level will be determined by state and local health officials,” Superintendent Evans said. “But the school board and superintendent can cancel school for special circumstances.” The latter nearly happened this past year due to an influenza outbreak, but the situation did not quite get that far.
Although school is expected to start with students and staff in the buildings, there will be many precautions.
“We will require all employees to wear a mask or face shield because of their close contacts with students,” Evans said. By extension, this will help protect the families of staff and students as well.
“We will provide neck gaiters, which we can get in different sizes to fit students Pre-K-12,” he said. “They’re a more comfortable type of face protection.”
“We strongly suggest and expect students to wear the masks,” he said. However, he added making students wear masks would be difficult to police and he hopes that educating the students and parents will take care of the situation. There will not be disciplinary action for not wearing a mask.
“Social distancing in school is next to impossible,” Evans said. “That’s why PPE is so important.”
The return-to-school plan is available for parents to read on the school district website and while it is several pages long with a lot of information, it is actually a simplified, reader-friendly version that is the result of a great deal of work by the staff.
A committee of superintendents from throughout the state earlier compiled a list of suggestions to help districts deal with the problems of school during a pandemic. Evans, who was one of the 10, referred to it more as a toolkit, in that each school district is free to pick and choose what it wants to do.
What the plan covers
New Albany’s plan deals with practicing prevention, transporting students, entering school buildings, serving meals, transitioning, conducting group gatherings, supporting teaching and learning, protecting vulnerable populations and when a student or staff member becomes sick at school.
The schools are going to try to prevent spreading any virus in several ways.
- Evans said the schools are going to have a campaign to urge parents to take children to school rather than have them ride buses. “It’s not that we can’t take care of them, but that means more space (among riders),” Evans said. “We also plan to seat by family groups, like they do in church.”
- Rooms will be cleaned multiple times during the day and the superintendent said they have ordered “tubs” of hand gel and other protective measures to provide. “We don’t want to have another toilet paper fiasco,” he said.
- The schools will not require parents to add hand sanitizer to the usual supplies list, because there are so many types and what is needed must be at least 60 percent alcohol. “But parents can provide them as well,” he added.
- Water fountains will be turned off, but students may bring their own, and traffic patterns will be used to separate students as they do walk.
- “We will train students, staff, custodians, all virtually,” he said, concerning the measures.
- Temperatures of students will be taken every morning. “But we won’t do it when they get on the bus,” Evans said, because students may have been standing outside where the ambient temperature in summer or winter might lead to false readings. Temperatures will be taken as students go to class.
- Anyone with temperature 100 degrees or more will be sent to an isolation area and checked again later. If the temperature is still high the student’s parents will be asked come pick the student up.
- “There will be no field trips until further notice,” Evans said. “And we will limit exposure at athletic events.”
- That means no live pep rallies in person. “But we may live-stream them,” Evans said.
- The schools will limit unnecessary congregations of students and staffs and discourage congregation in parking lots and common areas.
- On the other hand, they will identify and utilize large spaces where social distancing is possible.
Schools will be closed entirely to public
There will be absolutely no admittance to the schools during the day, to help limit exposure.
Parents will not be allowed for visits, so conferences will be done differently and if a student forgets an item at home he or she will just have to do without it.
The cafeterias will prepare hot meals but the meals will be eaten in the rooms. “They all will be covered, wrapped in plastic or in take-out boxes,” Evans said. “They may be able to walk to the cafeteria, maybe four at a time to get them out of class, but the meals will be eaten in the room.” Food and utensils, obviously, may not be shared.
At the elementary school, plans call for keeping a class in the same room and transitioning the teachers instead.
A concern is how much students may have missed academically this spring and whether they will be able to take up where they should in August.
“We went back and re-evaluated academic baselines,” he said. “Grading probably will be the same. They will have the same expectations as if the students were in the classroom.”
“When they come back we will assess what they missed, but I am more concerned about what they can do in the next grade,” he added. Officials are also going to be preparing for possible future distance learning, if it is needed.
If the schools have to shut down again, buses will be used to deliver meals and study materials that might be needed. “We still have 13 to 14 percent of our students that do not have quality internet,” he said.
Some students may still need to stay at home for specials needs, but Evans said the schools have already reached out to them.
Before working on the plan, officials sent surveys to parents and employees seeking their opinions. “We got responses from about 1,100 parents and 300 staff,” he said.
“It’s a lengthy document but fairly easy to read,” Evans said. “I’m really proud of it. They did a great job.”
“Bottom line, we’re going to do what we have to do to take care of our kids.”
To see the entire plan: New Albany School District websitecoronavirus, New Albany, return, schools