Washington School District officials, along with educators across the country, are making plans for reopening in the fall — at least that’s the best-case scenario.
At a special school board meeting this week, held via Zoom, Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said her administrative team is studying the vast recommendations and guidelines being sent out on how to prepare for reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
No decisions have been made, VanLeer stressed, and multiple plans will be developed from a best-case scenario that all students return to the classrooms in August with additional safety precautions in place, such as social distancing, to a worst case of continued remote learning, and another plan for something in between.
“There are so many considerations and so many unknowns,” she said. “This is unprecedented and uncharted territory.”
VanLeer said her team is reviewing information from a wide range of sources, including the Missouri School Boards’ Association, which released a 96-page report, “Pandemic Recovery Considerations: Re-entry and Reopening of Schools,” that covers everything from academics, mental health, transportation, human resources and other topics.
Recommendations and guidelines also are being studied from state and county officials, Mercy Hospital, Education Plus, the Missouri Department of Health and the CDC, among others. VanLeer also is meeting weekly with area superintendents.
“We want to make the most informed decisions, in collaboration with others, that are in the best interest of our students, families and staff,” she said. “Reopening will look different in different parts of the state.”
VanLeer said some of the recommendations that have been made public are not being viewed favorably, but she stressed no plan will make everyone happy. She also said the Washington School District is a little more unique because of its geographical size which takes in parts of three counties — Franklin, Warren and St. Charles.
“We will be planning for all possible scenarios,” she said, adding the school board will be included in the decision-making process.
The district also is working on a plan for students to be able to retrieve their personal belongings from schools and whether summer school will be held in-person or remotely.
At Washington High School, online summer school is planned, similar to last year’s format, along with some in-person tutoring. However, elementary summer learning has not been decided yet.
VanLeer said school districts are waiting to hear more details of the governor’s Phase 2 reopening plan.
“We need more time and more detail before making decisions,” she said.
Among the recommendations from the Missouri School Boards’ Association, which are only suggestions, not hard and fast rules, are no more eating lunch in the cafeteria, no gatherings or assemblies and no sharing of pencils or other supplies.
Another recommendation is that schools should close for two to five days if a case of COVID-19 is reported among staff or students, to allow for cleaning and contact tracing.
Other suggestions, which are influenced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies, take into account the possibility of schools reopening under social distancing rules. These include:
• Have different grade levels attend school on alternating days, with students receiving take-home meals and attending classes online the other days.
• Split classes into morning and afternoon sessions.
• Schedule year-round classes with alternating breaks to limit the number of students in each building at one time.
• Have elementary students attend school and older students study from home.
• Give families a choice of at-home or in-school learning.
• Cancel or reorganize physical education, band, choir and orchestra to allow for smaller class sizes.
• Alternate recess times and keep large playground equipment off limits.
• Hold classes outdoors when possible.
• Increase space between desks, and face them in the same direction.
The report also recommends canceling or reorganizing sports, extracurricular activities and before- and after-school programs.
Transportation is another issue and the report recommends more bus routes and stops with fewer students onboard, and possibly staggering drop-off and pickup times.
VanLeer reiterated that no decisions have been made for the Washington School District and much more information will be forthcoming on what’s best for students here.