Nearly 100 people tuned in via Zoom on July 13 for the Fort Calhoun Community Schools Board of Education's regular meeting where district officials discussed the preliminary back-to-school plan related to COVID-19 for the 2020-21 school year.
The district plans to start the school year with students attending classes in person, but several safety precautions and protocols will be in place. Supt. Jerry Green, in a presentation covering the district's plans, noted that the current protocols and precautions could be subject to change.
"It is our first draft," Green said. "After school was out, we put together a return-to-school committee. That committee has met three times. We've met every two weeks since June 15 to start to have these discussions."
Green and elementary Principal Drew Wagner discussed what a typical day for students at the secondary and elementary schools could look like during the presentation. Green and Wagner covered protocols and precautions related to buses, classrooms, lunches, social distancing and masks and FCCS officials addressed questions posed by people on Zoom's chat function.
During the meeting, Green said the district will operate under three tier system: a high, a medium and a low tier. The high tier, he said, would mean no students will be in the building and learning will be remote. A low tier would be school functioning as normal as possible. A medium tier, which Green said is currently what the district is following, has some precautions, but would allow students in school.
A day in the life of an FCCS student would involve self-checks at home for COVID-19 symptoms, Green said.
"If the student’s feeling well, we're going to send them to school," he said.
Students that ride the bus will have their temperature taken before getting on. Buses will also have assigned seating to allow for easier contact tracing in case of a positive test result. Answering a question posed over Zoom about who would have to quarantine if someone did test positive, such as teachers or other students, Green said quarantine protocols will rely heavily on the Three Rivers Public Health Department.
"I will tell you right now in my conversation with (Three Rivers), there's going to be a huge difference on whether or not your student was wearing a mask or not wearing a mask," Green said.
Masks are not required for the entirety of the day at FCCS at this moment, however. Green said masks will be required only when social distancing isn't an option, such as on buses or in classrooms with a high number of students that doesn't allow for 6 feet of separation.
"The idea is that we want kids to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible," he said. "When social distancing is possible, then the masks can come off. I don't see students wearing a mask all day long while they're in the building."
Green said mask use at the elementary may be contingent on if they are causing more of a hindrance, especially for younger students, than they are providing positives, such as if students continually touch their face or adjust their masks.
Continuing with a day in the life of a high school student, Green said students entering school in the morning will have their temperatures checked. Students will then congregate with their grade level in either the high school gym, the auxiliary gym or the commons area before heading to their first class.
When it comes to bell schedules and passing periods, Green said seventh and eight grade students will follow the normal bells, but high school students will begin transferring classes at the start of the tardy bell. He said this is to maintain social distancing of students.
Desks and classrooms will be sanitized after each class period, Green said, and students should use hand sanitizer every time they enter a new area. He said the school is receiving 112 gallons of hand sanitizer from ESU 3, and the district also received five masks for each student and staff member at the school. Students are welcome to use their own masks, however, Green said.
For lunch, junior high and high school students eat two grade levels at a time. To accommodate social distancing, Green said for each lunch rotation, one grade will be in the cafeteria and the other in the auxiliary gym. Grades will alternate places every week and students will sit at assigned tables to allow for contact tracing if needed.
At the elementary, lunches will likely be had in classrooms, Wagner said. He said five entrances will be used at the elementary for students to enter the building in a timely manner and have their temperatures checked.
"The thing we looked at is we didn't want them to sit outside in a line, so right when they come we're going to have a staff member manning each door," before students go to their classrooms, Wagner said. "They're not going to be sitting outside to have opportunity for students to put hands on each other because that's where we pass germs."
In school, elementary students will not move from classrooms, rather, teachers will rotate to them.
At both the secondary and elementary levels, FCCS is expecting band and choir to take place. At the high school, band and choir may practice in the gym or outside for social distancing purposes. Wagner said the elementary is still looking at how to have choir, band and P.E., but they are planned to be available for students.
Wagner also said the playground will not be used for recess, but students will have recess throughout the school grounds or at the ball field across from the school building.
"The (playground) equipment, it's very hard for us to track and clean," Wagner said. "There's going to be designated areas where we're going to have (recess)."
When parents come to pick up elementary students, Wagner said families are asked to wait in their cars. If students need to be picked up early, parents are asked to call ahead for students to meet them outside or be escorted by school staff to the parents' vehicles.
"I love seeing parents come up and walk up to pick up their child, but we're going to try to have families stay in their vehicle," Wagner said. "Does that mean lines will be a little longer, does that mean we're going to have to wait? ...Yes, but as we know we got to be patient and flexible to keep each other safe."
If the district must move to the "high tier," for risk due to COVID-19, Green said FCCS is ready to go one-to-one for students with Chromebooks or oiPads, and the district has purchased programs to allow for remote education. The move to close school will be "heavily" dependent on Three Rivers recommendations, he said.
"It will be graded, it will count," Green said of remote learning. "It will not be enrichment. It will be do instruction through that process until we get kids back into school."
With the district's online learning capability, Green said parents who wish for their student to start the school year remotely can contact school official's to discuss their options.
More detailed guidelines and protocols for FCCS first draft plan are available on the district website under COVID-19 information.