How will school look when students return in the fall?
Things will be a lot different, said superintendent Dr. John Combs.
Just how different, and what the exact plan will be, changes. It’s not something that is easy.
“We thought we had a good plan figured out, then numbers exploded, as [Tipton County Emergency Management Agency Director] Tommy Dunavant put it.”
Two weeks ago, the school board conducted a survey by calling parents and having them select options.
Combs said he expected higher, but approximately 60 percent of respondents said they would send their children back to school if conditions in August were similar to the way they were mid-June.
“I was expecting about 80 to 20 split,” he said. “That’s what I understood from talking to people, so I’m glad we did the survey and asked parents.”
Combs said follow-up questions revealed some parents said they wouldn’t send their children to school if they were forced to wear masks.
“There were some answers like that, so I think explaining our plan will help parents prepare.”
Though it’s still tentative, and hasn’t been approved by the board, this is what’s being proposed:
First, the school year is expected to start on schedule – for teachers.
Combs plans to have teachers and staff back in their buildings on Aug. 3, as scheduled.
They will be reacclimating to the classroom, receiving training on the new guidelines and instructional plans, helping with scheduling and preparing for students, who will begin to join them on Aug. 17.
Then, students will start with staggered scheduling.
“This will be similar to the plan that Haywood has already announced,” Combs said.
Students will attend either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, with siblings attending on the same days, until Labor Day.
No students will be in the buildings on Fridays, however teachers and staff will be working on lesson plans and videos.
After Labor Day, the expectation is to return to a pre-COVID schedule, with both students and teachers attending Monday through Friday.
The COVID numbers will dictate scheduling, as they will everything else.
Getting to and from school will be difficult.
Transportation, which is done by bus for most students, is a major issue.
“If we properly socially-distanced on a bus, that would be about 12 children per bus per route. That’s a lot of routes to run.”
Many of the bus drivers have additional jobs and cannot spend all day running routes, and it is not a cost-effective solution, either.
Buses will be thoroughly cleaned, but parents are encouraged to provide transportation if they feel uncomfortable with sending their children on the bus.
Masks will not be mandatory and taking temperatures will be tough.
Combs said he will not be mandating their use, but says students and teachers may wear them if they choose to.
Teachers’ temperature will likely be taken, though it is still being determined how to efficiently take the temperatures of hundreds of students each day.
The school day will be different, too.
Breakfasts and lunches, 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.
Changing classrooms may also be different for the same reason.
Cleaning is a big priority.
Moving forward, there will be considerable emphasis placed on cleaning Tipton County’s schools.
Combs said teachers will not be responsible for purchasing extra cleaning supplies and the system’s janitorial company, Placo, will be providing supplies.
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.
What happens if someone in the building tests positive?
Combs said a positive test will likely mean anyone who has come in contact – closer than six feet – of that person will be placed on quarantine.
Medically-fragile students may be able to attend school from home.
Combs said he is working on a plan for students who are immunocompromised or are dealing with other medical conditions which put them at a higher risk should they become infected with COVID-19.
Virtual learning is difficult because of the unavailability of broadband internet.
Many schools around the country are turning to virtual learning, however that is not as easy in Tipton County where many communities are still underserved.
“We thought about getting hot spots and devices for those who don’t have them, but even if we did there’s no guarantee they’d work,” Combs said.
The Solo community, where Tipton County’s state representative and senator both live, does not have broadband availability, for instance.
The plans are not set in stone.
As numbers increase and guidelines change, the plans for returning to school may change as well.
“This all still has to be approved by the board and it’s all still up in the air, but this is where we are now,” Combs said.