On Thursday, July 9, the Tipton County School Board approved its plan for re-entry and the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
The plan, said superintendent Dr. John Combs, was a culmination of a lot of research, collaboration and thought.
“I am very aware that this entire COVID-19 scenario has caused quite the conversation across our state and this country. While many are focusing on politicizing these events, I need you to know my focus is simply on getting our kids back to school. The obvious reason is because they are missing out on teacher-led instruction, but not interacting with their peers in the school setting as they have done in the past can also be detrimental. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has expressed that concern. We are working toward getting these young people back in school.”
Combs also stressed the need for flexibility as the plans would be fluid and contingent upon the state and local health guidelines and ordinances.
The plan, which was very similar to the one The Leader reported on June 25, took nearly two hours to present and was passed unanimously by the board.
Here are 12 things you need to know:
1. The schedule will be different and will include distance learning.
Registration for the upcoming year for students in 1st-12th grades will be done online from July 15-31, unless a student is entering the district for the first time (this will be handled through their website). Parents will have the option to choose in-person or distance learning at the time of registration.
While teachers will report on Monday, Aug. 3, the start of school has been pushed back to Monday, Aug. 17 for students. This will give the faculty two weeks of in-service training on new policies and procedures before students return.
The hybrid model of attendance
For the first three weeks, students who will be attending classes in person will use a hybrid model where they will be in the building Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. Instruction on the remaining three days will be home-based and will use online or take-home components.
The goal is to have sibling groups attend school on the same dates. Parents/guardians will be notified of these dates by the schools.
Going every other day will help with skill retention, Combs said, compared with going two consecutive days and being home the other three days.
After Labor Day, on Sept. 8, students are expected in class all week.
Those who choose to distance learn will find their students’ assignments will vary based on their needs and their home internet access. Should they wish to change to in-person instruction, that can be changed at any time.
These students are still considered to be enrolled and will be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities.
Changes to the schedule
The state’s 180-day attendance requirement is still in play for now, so the system had to get creative in adding days to the calendar after removing the students first two weeks. There are distance learning days built into pre-existing breaks so, for example, the first Monday of Fall Break will be counted as a day in which students are learning at home.
2. Masks are encouraged, not required, but there will be a focus on safety.
Combs said he would not mandate them in schools – buses are a different story – but cloth masks are encouraged to be worn by staff and students. FEMA will also be providing disposable masks for the children and the state has provided masks for staff members.
Everyone entering the building will have their temperature taken and teachers will be paying attention to students with headaches and potential GI issues, which are common COVID-19 symptoms in children.
Other safety measures
Additionally, desks will be distanced and class size will be determined by how many children can safely occupy the room when its furniture is arranged with these practices in place.
Hand sanitizer stations will be installed and there will be a lot of discussion and handwashing, social distancing and other needed safety practices.
All visitors will be required to wear masks.
The district has purchased 960 16oz. bottles of hand sanitizer, 42 five-gallon containers of hand sanitizer, 100 face shields, 42 five-gallon containers of disinfectant, 1,000 spray bottles, 168 containers of hand sanitizer for dispensers.
3. The decisions for immunocompromised and special education students will be made by their IEP team.
There is considerable concern for those most at-risk for contracting COVID-19. During the meeting, it was discussed the plans for OT/PT and other special needs will be determined by the student’s IEP team at the school.
4. The health department will decide who will be quarantined when cases are confirmed in schools.
Combs said the district could not make a generalized determination about quarantining exposed students and staff. The regional epidemiologist and his staff will decide.
5. Teachers have 10 extra days for COVID leave, if needed.
One re-entry concern from teachers was sick leave and whether or not they’d have to use all of their days if they needed to be quarantined. The board approved an emergency leave plan for 10 extra days if the staff member was being quarantined, or the caregiver for someone else being quarantined, for COVID-19.
6. Bus transportation is going to be tricky.
Buses, to put it frankly, are a huge concern.
Combs and some of the district’s other decision makers walked out to a bus to figure out how to transport students safely.
Each bus can carry 70 students under normal circumstances, but fewer than a dozen when students are socially distanced.
“This was huge for us,” said Dr. Charlotte Fisher, who is the director of operations. “There were 11 of us who were able to sit safely on that bus.”
Buses will be equipped with the supplies to ensure they will be cleaned and sanitized before and after each route every single day. They’ll also have sanitizer, gloves, masks and student rosters.
Drivers and all students will be required to wear masks. Face shields will be provided for drivers and monitors who may have close contact with children who are prone to spreading respiratory droplets.
Students are asked to socially distance at bus stops, will load the bus one person at a time and be given sanitizer. They’ll load the bus back to front, one person per row, and are asked to sit next to the window. Students living in the same household may sit together.
The district is encouraging private transportation if at all possible.
There are detailed plans for what will happen when students arrive at school.
Schools may set up additional lines for car riders to increase the efficiency of screening.
All students will have their temperatures checked, and if their temperature is 100.4 or above, the caregiver will be asked to take them home.
7. Students and staff must be fever-free for three days.
The previous requirements allowed them to return after being fever-free for 48 hours, but that has been increased to 72 hours.
8. The school day will look a lot different.
High school students will change classrooms, but other students will likely remain with their teachers for most of the day.
Desks will be distanced and will all face the same way.
Breakfasts and lunches for Pre-K, Kindergarten and first graders, which may be pre-packaged, will likely be served to students in their classrooms to help limit exposure to other students and reduce the risk of transmission. Cafeteria lines will be used for second graders and older students who will eat in the dining room with no more than 50 students.
There will be no assemblies of more than 50 children and no field trips.
Student movement will flow in one direction, with six feet between students.
Sharing items – like supplies – is discouraged, as is the use of the water fountains. Everyone is encouraged to bring their own water to minimize the use of shared fountains, which are expected to be retrofitted with bottle fillers.
Playgrounds cannot be used.
9. Thanks to grants, the district is acquiring a lot of devices.
Access to the internet and technology is another area of concern and one of the reasons the district cannot effectively and equitably use virtual learning as its re-entry model.
Combs said 2,516 devices were purchased over the summer with CARES Act funds, local funds and a USDA grants. These will be used in classrooms beginning this fall.
The district now has an estimated 5,500 devices and is working on ways to increase access.
10. There will be a sick room and a well room.
Students who need to visit the nurse’s office for required medication will use the well room while students exhibiting symptoms of communicable diseases will be in the sick room.
11. SACC will be limited to 50 students.
School-Aged Child Care, which has been closed since March 13, will return but its capacity will be capped at 50 students per site. This will be a problem for elementary schools like Atoka, where there is a large number of families who utilize the service.
Additionally, priority will be given to students whose parents are essential employees.
There will be no full-day care available on the days in which children do not attend school.
And students will stay with the same caregiver, in the same space, instead of rotating through different areas.
12. Confirmed cases are expected to increase when schools begin. The district will be reviewing virus spread with the epidemiologist.
In its framework and protocols for re-opening, TCS published a matrix showing what will happen for various levels of virus spread.
Low virus spread is defined as no reported increases in the number of cases in 14 days. During this time, TCS recognizes blended learning may be necessary, but the majority of instruction will take place in person with safety precautions in place.
During a moderate spread, there will be blended learning, partial days or other mixed models with social distancing procedures.
If there are high levels of community transmission, including outbreaks and increases in cases, the district will close schools and use virtual learning methods.
This is just a summary of a dozen things you need to know about the re-entry plan, but the district has its comprehensive plans for re-entry on its website if you’d like more information.