The school year may just be getting over, but the Marshall School District is already looking at what the 2020-2021 academic year may look like in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The Marshall School Board met as a committee of the whole on June 3 to take part in a workshop about plans for reopening in the fall.
A multitude of topics were addressed ranging from food service to the number of students in each classroom and transportation to cleaning procedures. While there are still many unknowns, the district is preparing for a change in operations once the fall semester gets underway.
“Many decisions will be made in the coming weeks,” District Administrator Dan Grady said, noting a variety of district staff members have been looking at various aspects of planning to reopen.
Additionally, several agencies including the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Public Health Madison and Dane County, and the State Department of Public Health will be providing some instructions on reopening schools.
“We need to think about policy, liability, mitigation, legal,” he said. “We have a lot of exciting work to do.”
Director of instruction and curriculum Randy Bartels said schools will likely need different structures going into the 2020-2021 academic year.
Middle school principal Paul Herrick said the district will need to determine what worked and what didn’t during virtual learning. Families would be surveyed to gather feedback on the past few months and future of virtual learning.
“It’s likely we’re going to have to be very creative next year,” he said.
In talking with middle school staff, Herrick said they wanted to know if the school day could be longer to allow for staggered periods to allow for contact between staff and families.
“As we move forward we’re definitely going to have to collaborate with other districts, especially districts that are kind of our size and really see what are we all trying,” the principal said.
Bartels said the teachers are not only looking at the structural model of instruction, but the social-emotional aspects of education that need to be addressed.
“We really want to maintain some personalization, some choices in the learning process and we’ve discovered that students and teachers connecting … they’re much more involved,” he said.
Additionally, the district will need to examine what type of technology software works best for virtual learning, Bartels said.
The district may consider having half the students in the buildings and the rest learning virtually on alternate days, elementary school principal Kathy Kennon said. This would allow for social distancing.
“I think we can adapt to a blending of face-to-face and virtual learning,” Bartels said.
Director of Special Education Karla Sikora said medically-fragile students may need to continue virtual learning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, she noted the department has been unable to conduct in-person tests with students to determine what type of services are needed; once face-to-face interaction is allowed, Sikora anticipates the assessments and evaluations will restart potentially in August.
District payroll/benefits specialist Maria Shelton said the district will need to decide what the hours of instruction will be for the teaching staff and when those hours will be, especially if Marshall is again doing virtual education.
“These all need to be defined and written down somewhere,” she said.
Furthermore, Shelton said there should be a policy in place on how often teachers should be in contact with students, again particularly if school is held online and not in-person.
Health and safety
School nurse Heidi Woods has looked into the different outlines of what is expected for infection control and mitigation measures as proposed by the DPI. She said in looking at country’s where students have already returned to schools and the ideal operations for reopening Marshall schools, a lot of based on temperature checks and social distancing measures.
“I see so many layers of things that are so important,” the school nurse said.
She suggested the district have a specific policy in place for temperature checks. Woods recommends students and staff have their temperatures checked daily upon arrival at the school. There are a few options for devices that are able to scan the temperatures of everyone entering the school facilities.
For the temperature checks to be successful, all staff and students would need to use a single entrance to ensure everyone’s temperature is scanned. Woods said the these checks would need to be done before an individual is able to enter the building.
If someone does have a temperature, the district will need to have a procedure on the next steps, she said. For example, a staff member could go back to their vehicle and drive home without entering the building; the procedure for a student with a temperature would have to consider more factors.
For instance, a student who arrives at school with symptoms or develops them during the school day may be isolated in the health room. However, Woods does not know how long the room would need to be empty for before it’s OK for another person to use the space. Additionally, the middle school currently does not have a health room where ill students can be placed.
For those students who ride the bus, their temperature may be taken before they can board the vehicle.
Whether students and staff will be required to wear masks is still under consideration.
Woods said younger children may need to practice more social distancing while older students could use masks to decrease the spread of COVID-19. Staci Abrahamson noted masks may be a hindrance for students who are hard of hearing or deaf who read lips.
Dave Farwell, the district’s facility services coordinator, said the district has supplies for disinfecting and masks for staff have started being delivered.
“When students come back, we’re going to have to micro-manage each room because it’s going to be a lot for one person to go through for cleaning,” he said, offering the possibility of the custodial crew working with teachers and students to help keep classrooms clean.
Farwell noted that while the district has an adequate supply of disinfecting wipes, there may be trouble obtaining enough as the school year gets underway.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think we’re going to have one (container of wipes) for each classroom at the start of the year,” he said. “You’re going to go through a carton of those every week.”
There are alternatives available to disinfecting wipes, such as using a disinfecting solution and wiping surfaces with rags.
The one aspect Farwell has not heard anything about is HVAC; his suggestion is to revisit the airflow cubic feet per minute (CFM) requirements. He said a change could impact the overall utilities cost.
Grady added that in terms of facility access, he has not put an exact date in place. The district administrator said once the buildings are open for students, the facilities will be open for other groups to use.Food service
Food services director Judy Filter has continually been in contact with several agencies including the CDC, USDA, school nutrition association, department of health and DPI.
“At this point, there are no confirmed guidelines, they don’t know either,” she said.
When it comes to meal preparation, the consensus is that it will remain the same; the biggest change could be food distribution.
Filter does not know if students will go through the lunch line as has been the practice or if food will be delivered to individual classrooms where students will dine as opposed to using the cafeteria. Additionally, she is unsure if the district will be able to continue utilizing reusable trays and silverware or if it will need to switch to disposable trays and utensils.
“These are all up in the air until we know more,” Filter said.Transportation
There likely be fewer students riding on a bus at one time, which could require more buses running the same route to transport all students to school. Business Manager Bob Chady said next year, there may be two morning and afternoon bus runs for each of the routes. He anticipates this impacting the daily school start and end times.
Due to the changes, he expects there to be an increase in the cost of transportation services with Go Riteway bus company.
“One of the things we have to keep in mind is what are parents going to expect, what will parents’ comfort level be with kids riding the bus and how the ridership will be impacted by this,” Chady said.
Social distancing may require having only one student per seat utilizing alternate rows; this could limit the bus route to 11 to 15 students.
“Keep in mind if a family rides the same bus, they can sit together,” Grady said. “But the prediction is that we’ll need social distancing… for non-family members.”
“I’m going to put this out there, if there’s a picture in your mind that we’re going to resume as we have in the past, that should exit your mind quickly,” said Athletic Director and head football coach Matt Kleinheinz. “Things are going to be very different.”
He envisions the district using a youth sports model where players will dress for practice or games at their own home and not utilize the locker rooms.
In terms of getting teams to games, there may need to be several trips to transport the various levels of high school teams such as JV taking a different bus from the varsity team or multiple buses transporting students at the same time. Or, parents may help decrease the need for bussing by driving their child to and from athletic contests.
He said the good news from the WIAA is that the deputy director of the program fully expects football to begin as scheduled.
“Football is going to kind of lead the way and drive the bus because football is the first sport that will officially start practices in August,” Kleinheinz said.
According to the athletic director, practices may be phased in with several small groups meeting to practice and expanding to encompass more players
He said it appears a lot of decisions will be determined locally or at the county level.
As for the non-sports co-curricular activities such as academic teams, FFA and music, he feels more guidance will be available once the back-to-school plan is put in place.