By Crystal Burns
Plans are in place for Gibson County Special School District students to return to school as scheduled on Aug. 3.
Director of Schools Eddie Pruett laid out plans for the school board at its July 9 meeting at Gibson County High School in Dyer.
Noting the document is still a draft, Pruett said that two to three weeks ago, district leadership developed teams and divided the planning into academics, operations, support, and staff. Subcommittees included food service, athletics, and transportation. Teams were comprised of district-level personnel, principals, and teachers.
Pruett said each team studied the four levels of reopening that Governor Bill Lee has provided and asked questions of how ready the school district is and if the district has the right materials to open school.
Based on information from local health officials at this time, Pruett said the district would be considered at Level 4 and would have in-person instruction in all schools. The plan the teams have helped craft spells out how the district would respond should a spike in COVID-19 cases locally drop it to Level 1.
“The good thing about this plan is whatever direction we go, we’ve got it spelled out,” Pruett said. “We do plan on starting Aug. 3. We have not made any modifications to the calendar.”
Under the current draft of the plan, should the district find itself at Level 1, all students would participate in virtual learning from their homes. At Level II, students would be dividing into A Schedule and B Schedule. A Schedule classes would meet Monday and Wednesday, and B Schedule classes would meet Tuesday and Thursday. Students would have work to do on those days when they are at home. Friday would be used as flex time to provide students who need extra instruction and give teachers half of the day to plan because of double duty on virtual and in-person teaching.
At Levels 3 and 4, all instruction is in-person.
However, the district will likely offer a family choice plan for virtual learning, Pruett said. The district has already surveyed parents to determine students’ access to devices and internet. He said the numbers were better than he expected. The district also plans to send out a survey to ask parents to register for virtual learning for the first nine weeks if they don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school.
“My concern is it’s July 9, and you’re saying we’re starting on Aug. 3, and we don’t have any teachers really geared up to do this online component yet,” said board member Dana Welch. “We haven’t made a decision about if it’s going to be software, all that. So that has to be some kind of readiness consideration, right?”
Pruett said that any path the district chooses would be difficult, and that schools across the state are working through the same issues. He said that a number of teachers would be trained in virtual learning and considered experts to then help other teachers in their buildings as they complete the training.
“Each building will have one to three people that will be the experts,” he said.
Screening, cleaning, transportation, food service
Pruett said the district has one thermometer for every 40 students, and leaders are working to determine the best way to screen temperatures at the beginning of each day. He said ideally, staff would screen students before they enter the building, but with large enrollment numbers at some schools, doing so could be create more headaches at drop off points. It’s easier to screen temperatures in homerooms, he said.
Students and staff with temperatures of 100.4 or higher will be sent home. Staff are expected to screen themselves. Pruett said there would be isolation rooms for those students that the school nurse determines has multiple COVID-19 symptoms to wait until a parent can pick them up and take them to be tested at a health department.
Pruett said the health department will contact the school district with the student’s test results.
When schools are operating at Level 2, frequently touched surfaces will be sanitized between transitions. Buses will be sprayed with a powerful disinfectant after every route.
Pruett said buses will be loaded from the back, so that no students will pass other students. Unloading will start at the front. He said parents who feel uncomfortable putting their children on the bus are encouraged to make arrangements to drive them to school or carpool with families they feel comfortable with.
“The bus is one of the areas that I’m probably the most nervous about as far as exposure just because we don’t have the controls [we have] once they get here,” he said.
At Level 2, face masks will be recommended but not required, and the district will have face masks available for students. Face masks will also be encouraged at Level 3. Any student or staff member who wants to wear a face mask is able to do so at any level of opening, he said.
Meal service will be provided at all levels of opening. At Level 1, meals may be picked up at the schools and delivery will be provided. At Level 2, students will eat in the cafeteria or other spaces in shorter shifts with less students eating at the same time. Meal pickup and delivery will be available for those learning virtually. At Levels 3 and 4, virtual students can pick up meals at school.
Students and staff will be encouraged to practice social distancing as much as possible at all levels of opening.
“It’s been heavy,” Pruett said. “It’s been tough, and I want to say thanks to my team and the principals, the district team, and the teachers that have helped. There’s no way we could have pulled all this together in such a short time. I’m very proud of the document.”
Pruett said it is still an imperfect plan, and there are questions he can’t answer. He’s hoping that families will show the district a lot of grace as they work through the challenges together.
“I hope people have some grace this year and know that we’re going to do whatever we can to try to keep our kids safe and do what’s best,” Pruett said. “Hopefully, we’ll get through it on the other side.”
School board attorney – The board voted 5-0 for Pruett’s recommendation to retain Bill Barron as school board attorney.
Athletic practice – The board also voted 5-0 to approve athletic practice during the day for high school sports only. Board member Eddie Watkins was absent, and Treva Maitland arrived after the votes.