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Classes to begin early with in-person learning

Cornell School Board

One thing that has been discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March, is that things can change rapidly. However, as of June 22, Cornell Schools are set to reopen late this summer, with in-person learning.

The Cornell School Board approved a DPI waiver request at the regular June meeting, for the school start date, in accordance with Administrative Code PI 27.03 (5). With the waiver, school will begin Aug. 17, instead of the normal Sept. 1, in an attempt to build relationships with students and teachers, in the event the school may have to close because of an outbreak of the virus.

“The building the relationship piece is big,” said superintendent Paul Schley.

Kari Koenig, 4K teacher, says she needs as many days as possible to get to know brand new preschoolers, that she needs to see their educational level and family dynamics, and meet family members, before the school may have to go online.

“It’d be nice to know them,” said Koenig.

Clerk Eileen Sikora asked the impact it will have on the district if there is a confirmed case.

Schley said that’s where the plan the administrators are working on comes in, with a reduced impact, as they want to have kids stay with their classroom more than in the past. For example, at the high school, the freshman could be in one room for most of the day. If a student from that group tests positive for the virus, that group would need to stay home and quarantine, instead of closing the whole school.

One drawback, would be that the teachers who came in contact with that student/group, would also have to be quarantined.

“Do you have enough subs to cover?” said Schley.

“But, at least we’re looking at what could happen,” said Sikora. “It’s not going to happen...but if it does, we will be prepared.”

Middle and high school principal Dave Elliott, said his building will be more difficult to control settings, as it is a large school.

“The issue’s going to be enforcement with my group,” said Elliott.

Elliott says project learners were hit the hardest educationally, when the school shutdown occurred in March. This fall, Elliott wants to get the shop open, even if there has to be a rotation process and extreme social distancing.

“Those kids need to be in the shop,” said Elliott. “We’re known for getting those kids doing hands-on work.”

Before kids ever get to school, bus drivers will take a student’s temperature before admitting them to the bus and, if the reading is above 100 degrees, the student cannot get on the bus. Potentially, the driver would have to be quarantined, if the child would then test positive for the virus.

Schley says he is working with Pat Sime, owner of Tom’s Sales & Service, who provides busing for the district, and said Sime will take extra precautions for safety.

“He’ll do the best he can,” said Schley. “We might have to shut down, because too many personnel are out. You never know.”

“Or we can’t get the kids to school,” added Sikora.

Schley says he would rather do the least amount of teaching online as possible, as everyone prefers in-person learning.

“The teachers really want to see the kids, too,” said president Lyle Briggs.

After they arrive at school, there will be two entrance doors for kids to get into the buildings: one is for those who came on the bus and one will be for walkers/drivers. Those who walk, drive or are dropped off by parents, will have their temperatures taken before admittance to the buildings. “Not all situations are going to be real feasible,” said Schley.

Schley says it’s still up in the air if kids will wear a mask or not, since it is not required at this time by the DPI. Schley said some parents have indicated that they won’t send kids if masks are required, while others won’t send them if masks aren’t required.

Schley also mentioned that he knows some kids won’t come to school, either for their own health or the risk of passing on the virus to an immune-compromised relative. It’s also up in the air if staff will wear a mask or not.

Another option that could be looked at, is to split up half the kids during the week and only have them come on staggered days.

“I don’t think a lot of our parents would like that option,” said Schley.

While kids can be regulated on buses and spaced out going to classrooms, Schley says meals are another matter, which is why breakfasts will be delivered to classrooms.

“One less time we have all the kids together,” he said.

For the time being, Schley is not planning for any extracurricular programs, such as after-school (which could be held off-site), and Camaraderie Club or other meetings within the school buildings. Community Ed classes within the school would also be nixed.

That way, once kids leave the school in the afternoon, custodial staff can clean at night. Schley said the overreaching goal is to keep kids safe to the best of the district’s ability.

“We’re going to do a lot of different things,” said Schley. “We’re going to do our best – we can’t do everything.”

Although in-person learning is preferred, staff is already looking at online options, should the district need to shut down again later on.

“Well, I guess we need to hope for the best,” said Briggs, “and plan for the worst kind of scenario.”