By Jay Mullen
Superintendent Patrick Dee outlined the school district’s plan to reopen this fall in a YouTube video posted on Thursday. The video, as well as the PDF of the 20-page plan, can be found on the district’s website.
The district plans to go ahead with the A/B schedule format that Dee outlined at the Whitehall Board of Education meeting on July 20.
“Several of the biggest changes and challenges that we have faced are the substantial limitations that have been enacted as a result of social distancing requirements,” he said.
Daily in-person instruction will occur for all Pre-K, Kindergarten and First Grade students, as well as those who are in Self Contained Special Education Classrooms and those who receive English as a Second Language services.
All remaining students in grades two through twelve will be on the A/B schedule format.
Half of the students will be attending in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, along with alternating Wednesdays when assigned. The other half of students will be in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. They will also be in-person for alternating Wednesdays when assigned, according to Dee.
Students will be assigned to in-person instruction based upon master scheduling and classes required in the high school.
Dee said that they have been surveying staff and parents while attempting personal calls to all families in the district.
Their number one concern has been and will continue to be the safety of students and staff, Dee said.
Due to the social distancing requirements classrooms that normally can hold 20-plus students will only be able to hold 10 to 12 students maximum.
Desks will be spaced out to fulfill these requirements maintaining six feet between each desk. “This significantly limits our number of students that we can have in front of their teachers at any given time,” Dee said.
Transportation is going to be the biggest challenge for the district.
Buses that normally can hold 66 students are only allowed to hold 22 at most. Only one student will be allowed per seat to meet social distancing requirements.
Dee said that siblings are allowed to sit with one another in the same seat, but the seat across from the siblings must remain empty in that case.
The district is limited with the amount of buses that they can use due to the fact that they have a different start time for both the high school and elementary school. “We simply cannot get our students to campus as a result of these limitations without your help,” Dee said.
The superintendent is asking all families to consider picking up and dropping off their children if that option is available to them.
“The more individuals that can commit to helping us during this COVID crisis the more students that we can educate in person and on a daily basis as we move forward,” he said.
Prior to students getting dropped off or picked up by the bus parents are also asked to perform temperature checks for their children.
“Each day we will be asking families to temperature check their child and complete either an online document, which is something we are presently working on, or send your child in with a note indicating that it has been done,” Dee said.
If a check is not done prior to the student’s arrival a screening will be done at school.
There are going to be signs hung up all around all buildings detailing proper handwashing and sanitation techniques, according to Dee. There will also be signs reminding everyone to socially distance.
Masks will be required for all staff and students. Dee said that masks must be worn by all students on the bus during the entirety of the trip, and when any student or faculty member is in any common area or moving about in a classroom.
Masks can be removed during instruction as long as the student is at their desk and proper social distancing requirements are met.
“Students that are medically unable to wear a mask must provide to the school documentation from their physician indicating such,” Dee said.
Families are encouraged to maintain a clean supply of masks for their children. Dee said that he expects the students to be sent to school with at least two clean masks each day.
If a student has a fever of 100 or higher at school they will be isolated. Parents will also be contacted to pick up their child.
After a student has recorded such a fever they will not be allowed on campus until they are without a fever for 24 or more hours without the use of medication.
If there is a positive COVID case in the district the administration is going to let the state decide what to do next.
“In the event of a positive COVID result the Department of Health will be the direct contact for the school district and will make determinations of school closures, quarantines and the like depending upon their contact tracing,” Dee said.
If parents don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school, there is another option.
But there are a few requirements that must be met for fully remote learning for the student.
“First, the parent must attest that they have adequate WIFI connectivity in their home to both send and receive live broadcasts with the district,” Dee said. “Second, the parent must commit to a minimum of one semester of online instruction. If a parent refuses in-person instruction as well as online instruction that parent must complete an IHEP, otherwise known as an Individual Homeschool Education Program.”
Dee said that it is important that families contact the building administrator for your child’s school in the event that you do not have adequate WIFI in the home.
Over the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of school building administrators will be recording and posting videos, as well as sending letters home in regard to their specific buildings.
Dee and the administrators will also be hosting virtual town hall meetings through Google Meets where the community can log on and ask any questions they have regarding the plan going forward. Robo calls will be sent out to inform everyone of new videos being posted and when the town hall meetings are going to take place.
If you are keeping your child remote, are able to pick them up or have them drive themselves or know that you do not have adequate wifi please contact the student’s buildings by Friday, Aug. 14.
Dee knows that this is not the ideal scenario, but hopes the community understands that they are putting the safety of everyone at the top of their priorities.
“While I understand this plan is not what many of us had hoped for as the new year begins please understand that all decisions that have been made have been made based upon guidelines with which schools must comply with student and staff safety in mind, and with the limitations that we face as a district,” he said.