By Mike Harris
With Aug. 12 set as the first day of school, Rim of the World Unified School District is still trying to decide what reopening will look like for the 2020-2021 school year as it deals with the threat of the COVID-19 virus.
At the June 11 school board meeting, Superintendent Michelle Murphy presented to trustees three options the district has been reviewing for what reopening might look like. Trustees said they will decide at the June 25 school board meeting which reopening plan Rim schools will use.
The three options include a complete return to the classroom, continuing distance learning or using a blend of classroom attendance and distance learning.
The district did a survey of teachers, staff and parents to get feedback on which of the three reopening plans were preferred. The district had a response from 126 teachers, 103 classified staff employees and 1,191 parents.
Of the three options, returning to the classroom was most favored with 55.6 percent of teachers supporting a full return, 58.3 percent of staff liking that pathway and 47.8 percent of parents saying that’s the plan to follow.
Choosing only the distance learning option or a blend of distance learning and classroom attendance each received a 23 percent choice.
The district also polled parents about their preference for having their students ride school buses.
Of those parents responding, 9.1 percent said their students would not ride the bus this year, while 25.3 percent said their students would ride without physical distancing while 22.7 percent said their students would not ride without physical distancing.
Parents were also asked about technology in their home. Of 574 parents responding, 5.4 percent said they do not have Internet access at home with WiFi while 95.6 percent do, and 80.5 percent of students have access to a device while 19.5 percent do not have a WiFi-capable device.
Murphy also told trustees, three of whom attended the school board meeting in person while two attended from their homes using Zoom, that the district already has taken a number of steps in preparation for students returning to classrooms.
Those steps include multiple touchless thermometers for school sites and district nurse, isolation rooms identified at sites, all Chromebooks will be barcoded this summer for distribution if needed, moving from Outlook for email and calendar for employees to Google for integration with Google Classroom, developing a first draft of a strategic plan written with a second draft in progress.
Parent notification regarding COVID-19 procedures will be part of Aeries Confirmation for the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, an employee guidance handbook was created by Human Resources. Murphy said a welcome back program will take place at sites.
Also, stickers have been ordered for hallway traffic patterns for all school sites, plexiglass barriers are being installed at campus entry points and secretary desks, posters for symptom reminders and hygiene protocols are prepared, training for custodians and cleaning crews for summer sanitation/disinfection is underway, improved cleaning measures for classrooms and buses daily once students return are in place, masks have been ordered in case mandated for students and staff, and staff have face shields ordered. Hand sanitizer has been ordered for all sites for each classroom and library plus various other locations.
Murphy also said that revisions to the district’s strategic plan will include a plan for a 14-day school site closure should a confirmed COVID-19 case be identified.
If trustees vote to have a complete return to the classroom for the new school year, Murphy said currently the thinking is that all students and staff would return to campuses with K-6 option for Home Choice and 7-12 option for independent study for families that want a different option.
All desks in classrooms would be facing forward with space between desks (spacing will depend on classroom size), the teacher’s desk would be six feet from students when possible, hygiene and symptom protocols will be taught and reminders on display with posters, and student supplies will be labeled.
Personal protection equipment (PPE) would be up to individual preference, cleaning routines followed by custodians, and windows open when possible for increased ventilation.
Hallway traffic patterns will be displayed on floors, with masks recommended.
Physical distancing is not possible on school buses, so masks would be mandatory.
Recesses will be staggered, lunch spacing where possible at tables and plexiglass at entry points, PPE provided, isolation rooms established, and wellness checks in place daily for staff and students.
Murphy said Rim schools are doing everything possible to be ready for a new school year and, depending on how trustees decide which reopening plan to follow, teachers and staff will be ready.