“As Close to Normal As Possible”
MSSD schools set reopening plan
By Logan Watson
With little more than a month left to go before students return to class, Milan schools are aiming for a smooth transition when they open their doors in the post-COVID landscape.
“Our goal is to return to school as normal as possible under the guidance that has been provided to us by local, state and federal government,” MSSD Director of Schools Jonathan Criswell told his staff members in an online meeting last Thursday. “There are a lot of scenarios, and each scenario brings its own challenges and questions.”
The MSSD is facing three scenarios when classes resume: New Normal, Hybrid Learning and Virtual.
The “New Normal” scenario, the optimal of the three, would see the schools implement many of the same measures that have been taken by businesses to prevent the spread of the virus, such as daily temperature checks and extra cleaning. The MSSD will also be purchasing personal protective equipment for school nurses and other teachers that will require it, as well as installing plexiglass shields in the offices. Masks have been purchased for all employees, but neither teachers nor students are mandated to wear masks at this time.
“Extra safety measures are in place,” Criswell said. “If we have the opportunity to socially distance, we will.” Social distancing is not being mandated due to the limited amount of space in the classrooms, but faculty and students will follow the guidelines where feasible. “We expect 95 to 100 percent of our students to come back to school in this situation and be in face-to-face instruction,” Criswell said. High-risk students will have a number of options for remote learning.
In the event that Milan’s schools are mandated by the state to enforce social distancing, the MSSD will utilize the Hybrid Learning scenario.
“The hybrid scenario is the worst, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s good for students, I don’t think it’s good for the community, the families or the teachers,” Criswell said. CDC guidelines for socially distancing schools included having students eat lunch in their classrooms rather than the cafeteria and be seated in every other seat on busses.
“All three Principals ran through a scenario trying to socially distance with 100 percent of our students in the classroom. You can’t do it. We cannot social distance. If we are required to do that, we will be on a type of alternating schedule.” Current plans would include only 50 percent of students in the buildings at a time, while the other half of the student body is learning remotely, which Criswell said would put undue stress on everyone involved, including the parents.
“We hope to avoid this at all costs, but we do have a plan,” he said.
The third scenario would take place in the event that COVID-19 cases in the area started rising, or if schools are mandated by the Governor to close like they did in March. All classes would go virtual, and teachers have been obtaining their Google Classroom certifications over the summer break in order to prepare for the possibility of taking their classes online. The MSSD is also purchasing computers for all students at Milan Middle School, rolling out 1:1 implementation in the same way as the high school. All students in grades 5-12 will have the ability to learn remotely through Google Classroom.
“We believe that this scenario will likely happen at some point in time during the fall,” Criswell told his staff. “Whether it be for a week, two weeks, or a month, we don’t know. We believe virtual learning will become a part of the new educational norm. It’s not the ideal situation, but if this happens again, we’re going to be in a much better place than we were in the spring.”
Director Criswell stated that the district is well-prepared to do their part in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, and will take appropriate measures in the eventuality that a student or staff member tests positive for the virus.
“We’ve run through multiple scenarios,” Criswell said. “We have multiple options for each scenario, and according to where we are in the virus spread, our numbers are staying steady. They’re going up a little but, but they are not increasing dramatically. We don’t have a high count in Gibson County.”
Criswell added that the MSSD is in the process of working out procedures in the event that a student begins showing COVID-19 symptoms at school, as well as the myriad questions that come along with meeting the increased needs of the students and teachers during the pandemic, such as attendance, grading, and statewide testing.
“As soon as we know something, we will get that information out to parents. Hopefully in July we will start rolling out very specific plans for each school,” Criswell said. “We want to see the big picture, but keep it as simple as possible. When chaos is happening, I believe that you just back it up to its most simple form and adjust from there.”