The reopening of school and what it will look like
Lake Holcombe School is among others set to reopen Sept. 1, but the 2020-21 school year is going to see major changes, opposed to previous years. The district’s reopening plan was discussed at a regular school board meeting July 20, after guidance was received from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in June. The school then formed four work groups, made up of staff, to formulate their reopening plan.
“It’s a general framework, it’s not the detailed one, it’s the general framework of reopening the school,” said superintendent Kurt Lindau.
Lindau says the school is releasing the preliminary information now, so people can absorb that information, before releasing program specific details later on.
“We’re working, really, on three different scenarios simultaneously for the beginning of the school year,” he said.
Scenario 1 would involve welcoming all students back to school five days a week. Scenario 2 would have a blended schedule, where students are in the school only part of the week. Scenario 3 would consist of strictly virtually learning.
Planning for Scenario 1, the district has moved the middle and high school to a “block” schedule, and implemented numerous health and safety measures. The school has purchased temperature taking devices to scan students at bus pick-up, as well as handheld devices for bike riding, driving and walking students. Purell machines have also been installed throughout the building.
“There’s a lot of signage that’s going up around the building,” said Lindau, of the instructions on social distancing and hand washing reminders. “Masks and other protective equipment – our language currently reads that these items are strongly encouraged. It may be likely that by the time we get to Sept. 1, that we may be requiring staff to wear masks, maybe students.”
Elementary students, for the most part, will remain in their classrooms all day, while the middle school classes will remain in the classrooms most of the day, and high school classes will try to keep together by classes to limit transitions from one place to the next.
“That way,” said principal Mark Porter, “if you do have an outbreak or you do have somebody that tests positive – and you will – it’s easier to contact trace, because they’re part of a core group.”
The school drinking fountains have also been disabled and the district has purchased another water filling station. Students will be required to bring their own water bottle to get a drink.
As for the entrances and exits to the school, the buses will drop off on the east side of the building, while the rest of the student body will come in the main door.
“We’ll be asking family members not to leave their vehicles when picking up and dropping off students,” said Lindau. “That’s going to be a major change for people.”
The main office will be switched around, so the sliding window, which is normally used to pay accounts, will be the receptionist area. Staff will also cordon off the front commons, as the only access for visitors is to that office window.
“Our custodial staff will significantly in- crease their cleaning procedures and staff will have access to more materials for cleaning,” said Lindau.
Meals will also look different. The cafeteria will still provide breakfast and lunch, but breakfast will be in the classroom for elementary students, with the grab-and-go delivered to classrooms for middle and high school students.
“At current, the plan is to still serve lunch in the cafeteria, but the food service workers will need to wear protective equipment,” said Lindau, adding that staff will likely deliver plates to the tables and that additional tables have been purchased to spread out students.
In the event of a closure, technology access was a main concern the district worked on over the summer.
“We did a good job this spring, of getting people fired up with internet access,” said Lindau.
Porter says they know some families won’t have connectivity, so the ability to connect at the school property is very important, as is instructing students on how to connect and download what they need.
“I think that was something that was lacking in the last round,” said Porter.
Athletics and extracurricular activities remain a bit uncertain, although the WIAA has given the go-ahead for fall sports.
“At this point, we plan to offer those activities… it may be possible those seasons are restricted or canceled,” said Lindau. “We’ll wait and see.”
Busing and transportation has also been looked at, as it is recommended that bus drivers wear masks and load students from back to front, having kids sitting in family groups where applicable.
“As you can imagine, trying to keep kids socially distanced on a school bus is challenging,” said Lindau. Lindau says parents are highly encouraged to drop off kids in the morning.
Matt Flater, board vice president, said he wants to thank everyone involved in the reopening plans. “It takes a lot of work,” said Flater.
Even though it can be frustrating dealing with the many changes, board member Debbi Readinger said she keeps telling parents to be patient.
“I think it’s ludicrous for any school to say right now, we’re going to open…we have to have a plan, because things change on a daily basis,” said board president Brian Guthman. “It’s not just us. There are other entities that have a lot to say.”
Lindau agreed, and said administration will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and receive guidance from the Chippewa County Department of Public Health, the DPI and the WIAA. For now, the plans set in place are what the district will follow.
“Subject to change, day by day,” said Lindau.