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Back to school will be different this year

Students in Clark County Public Schools will return to classes after Labor Day, but going back to school will be different from anything they’ve ever experienced before.

Details remain to be worked out, but it’s likely students will have to wear a mask at least part of the time they’re in school. They’ll have their temperature taken when they arrive on campus. Social distancing will be required in classrooms, the cafeteria and on school buses for those without masks, and students will get boxed lunches or disposable plates and eating utensils and be served the meals at their tables so that they won’t be standing in lines.

Superintendent Paul Christy told the school board last week he feels confident about the academic side of things; the difficulties that concern him most have more to do with food service, transportation, enforcing social distancing and other public health regulations.

Plans for returning to the classroom must follow guidelines of the state Department of Education and the Department for Public Health, such as health checks, having isolation rooms for students who are sick and requiring face coverings for teachers unless they can maintain enough distance from others.

“We know some of these things will be difficult to do in schools, and we tried to minimize these difficulties as much as possible when we developed the guidance. But these are the things we need to do to keep students, staff and communities safe,” Dr. Steven Stack, the state’s commissioner for public health, said in a statement June 24 when a task force issued the guidance for kindergarten through 12th grades.

A back-to-school task force for Clark County has been meeting about once or twice a week for the last month and a half, and has come up with options for students returning to school. They range from all students having the option of full-time classroom instruction to all students learning from home, with a couple involving an alternating schedule of classroom and online studies.

“In any and all of these plans, one of the commonalities is that if there are any students that have health issues or parents of these students who have any concerns about sending their child back to school under whatever conditions … there is an online and digital learning version of everything we’re doing,” Christy told school board members.

In the discussion during the board meeting June 29, four plans were presented that were guided by the results of a survey of local stakeholders. Although the board didn’t vote on a plan, there appeared to be a consensus to move forward with Plan A, which would have students in K-12 returning to classes at the same time. They would have a choice of full-time classroom instruction or virtual learning, with options of live, recorded or project-based hard copies of daily lessons.

In the survey, 49.4 percent of parents said they want their students in class as much as possible.

Christy agreed, and recommended Plan A to the board members who expressed support for that approach.

“I still believe that no matter how good your computer technician is and computer programming, that nothing can take the place of a teacher in front of the classroom talking to students,” Christy said.

Plan B would involve all students in grades kindergarten through sixth attending classes in person five days a week with an alternative option of virtual learning, and students in seventh through 12th grade would have classroom time either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday with virtual instruction on the alternate days. Wednesdays, George Rogers Clark High School and Campbell Junior High would undergo “deep cleaning,” Christy said.

Plan C would be similar to B, but with students in all grades having a split schedule.

Plan D would involve using non-traditional instruction days for all students to learn from home as they had to do when students were sent home in March.

Results of a second parent survey are expected back by Thursday based on the preferred option, Plan A. Online surveys are to be completed Wednesday night.

By the time of the July board meeting, members and staff “should have a good, solid plan we can look at,” Christy said.

The superintendent noted that if there is a coronavirus “spike,” the plan would need a second look.

“If we get to a point where this plan isn’t possible, we’ve still got the other three plans, and we’ll move through those,” he said.

He said he also wouldn’t have a problem with having different plans for different schools.

Board Member Gordon Parido noted that the state this year is allowing school districts an unlimited number of non-traditional instruction (NTI) days, which allows schools more flexibility in meeting state instructional requirements.

However, he too said he liked the idea of students being in classrooms as much as possible.

Students in third through 12th grades will also be issued ChromeBook laptops and thumb drives, so that instead of picking up and returning paper packets of work, those without broadband access can turn their work in on the drives. And the schools will be looking at providing students and parents with WiFi “hot spots” they can use.

An advantage Clark County schools have, Christy said, is that the HVAC systems they use provide three times more fresh air than most systems, and the filters used are near the quality used in hospitals, so it’s probable teachers won’t have to open windows and doors to let air circulate, which was one of the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School officials are also considering even higher quality HEPA filters.

Christy said that nurses are working on plans to isolate students if they have symptoms or their temperature is 100.4 or above.

On school buses, any student who doesn’t have a mask can be given one when boarding the bus, and there will be hand sanitizer for them to use. Buses will be filled from the back forward to avoid students walking past others and will unload from the front to the back.

If students are wearing masks, the buses can have their normal capacity, but any student not wearing a mask will have to be kept at least six feet apart from other students.

There had been talk of students having their temperature taken on the bus, but while the board was meeting, their attorney, Brian Thomas, read online that is no longer being considered as a requirement by the state.

“Things are still evolving and it’s changing” almost “day to day,” and as they change, the schools will be able to make the changes they need to make, Christy said.

The first day of the new school year is Aug. 31, and students will return to classes Sept. 8. The last day of classes is May 28, 2021.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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