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Loyal planning full 5-day, face-to-face school reopening

With almost three-fourths of Loyal School District families indicating in a recent survey that they want their children back in the classroom come Sept. 1, Loyal administrators and staff members are forging ahead with plans for a full face-to-face resumption of education. Details are still in the works — and parents can still opt to have their kids learn from home — but District Administrator Chris Lindner said students will finally see their teachers in-person again for the first time since the coronavirus forced closure of schools five months ago.

Loyal school officials and staff members agree, Lindner said, that the best place for children to learn is in the classroom. While some schools in the state are opting to continue the virtual learning systems they used last spring, or some blend of in-person and virtual education, Loyal will move forward on 5-day-per-week, face-to-face instruction.

In part, Lindner said, the district opted for that choice because that’s what its families want. Some 73 percent indicated in the recent survey that they prefer that classrooms reopen, and Loyal’s Board of Education agrees.

“Our board is on board with that. They want kids back in our building,” Lindner said.

Exactly how that will work is still in the planning stages, to some extent. Classrooms are being rearranged to keep desks and chairs at least six feet apart, with anything unnecessary being removed to create space and reduce the cleaning demands. Face masks will be required, he said, even when students will be kept at least six feet apart.

“We feel that we can do it with our size,” Lindner said of a full reopening. “We have a couple things we have to work on.”

Students will be kept in “cohort” groups as much as possible, Lindner said. That means students will be grouped, and will remain in those groups throughout the day, rather than intermingling with everyone in the school. Steps will be taken to reduce hallway traffic, such as requiring that students report directly to their first-hour classes when they arrive at school instead of hanging out together until the bell rings.

In the junior/senior high, the staff is working on details of keeping students in classes for double periods, to reduce transition time between rooms.

“We are looking at a block form of a schedule,” Lindner said. “We’re still working on that plan.”

With registration ongoing through this Thursday, Lindner said he has had “a few” requests from families to keep their children at home instead of sending them to school each day. That’s an option for anyone, he said.

“This is a parent’s choice,” Lindner said. “If you want to go virtual, you still have that option.”

All classrooms will be set up with recording equipment and livestream capability, Lindner said, so each class period will be electronically available. Students who stay at home will be expected to participate virtually in their classes as they are happening in the classroom, or to at least watch them at a different time.

“It’s really going to mimic a regular school day,” Lindner said of the online option.

The system will also offer a valuable backup for students who may need to miss a day for illness or other reason. For example, if COVID-19 does make it into the building and a student may have to quarantine for a time at home, they can keep up by participating virtually.

Precautions will also be taken on the five bus routes that deliver students to and from school. To decrease close contact, the students will load buses back to front, and exit front to back. Family members will be asked to sit together. Students will be spaced out, cutting the maximum per each bus to 25-30 students. The fact that some families plan to transport their kids to school will help reduce numbers.

Also, Lindner said, “We’re looking at doing rural first, dropping them off and then going out and doing the city kids.”

Even though most students will be back in school on Sept. 1, Lindner said it will not be “business as usual.” Teachers will be training students on the various social distancing and other strategies to keep everyone healthy, and normal socialization practices may not be allowed for some time.

“Expectations of the teachers and students, that’ll be different,” Lindner said. “The sanitation and the handwashing, that’ll look different. “This is the new normal, at least for now.”

Lindner said administrators are also taking care to address staff members’ needs. They have families at home to protect, too, and some teachers have concerns with resuming face-to-face contact. Those needs are being addressed individually.

Lindner said it will take effort from everyone to get the school reopened with normal education, and to keep it open if cases of COVID-19 surface. Practices will be altered as needed to cope with changing situations.

“The plan’s going to be a fluid plan,” he said. “We all have to be flexible and we all have to be supportive of what’s happening.”