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Greenwood students will be back in classrooms on Sept. 1

Greenwood School District students will return to classes full-time on the regular start date of Sept. 1, the district Board of Education has decided. When they come back, they’ll be required to wear face masks, grade 7-12 students will be learning in a form of 2-hour block scheduling, and various routines will be altered to maintain as much social distancing as allowed.

During a rambling discussion at a special meeting Monday evening, the Board and administrators talked about how best to resume school operations with coronavirus numbers persistently rising in the county and health officials advising schools to proceed with caution. While numerous details have to be worked out in the month before school starts, the Board did vote unanimously to get students back with teachers instead of attempting to continue with a virtual learning system that left some students behind when the coronavirus forced the doors to close in spring.

“I think we’re gonna have to show some courage here and get these kids back in school,” said Board member Mark Shain. “My position is, I think the kids need to be back in school. How that works, I’m not sure.”

District Administrator and 7-12 principal Todd Felhofer and K-6 principal Joe Green had prepared for the Board a set of options for the start of school on Sept. 1. Those ranged from a full face-to-face return with nearnormal conditions, to a virtual mode through which teachers “meet” online with students for lessons. That method was problematic in spring as multiple families in the outlying areas of the district did not have adequate internet service. The option the Board chose will have all students reporting to classrooms on Sept. 1, wearing face masks and practicing various physical distancing forms. The routine will be near normal for students in the elementary school, while those in grades 7-12 will have double class periods to lessen the number of times they change groups and pass through hallways. Throughout both buildings, various mitigation methods will be practiced, such as rearranged classrooms to put distance between people, staggered lunch periods, etc.

In a survey of families, Felhofer said about 80 percent of responding parents said they were at least somewhat comfortable having their children return to school. Staff members surveyed were somewhat more concerned about in-person instruction, he said.

“Staff is a little more reticent about coming back,” Felhofer said.

It is important, he noted, to make sure staff concerns are met. Much of the emphasis in return-to-school discussions has centered on the notion that children do not contract COVID-19 as readily as adults, but Felhofer said it won’t mean much if the children stay healthy but the teachers do not.

“Kids don’t get sick, but that’s not the only consideration,” he said.

Board member Dean Lindner said the district will need to take steps to “get them (staff members) as comfortable as possible” for a return to teaching. The Board discussed meeting with staff members to talk through various issues.

One safety measure that will be required is wearing of face coverings. Any return plan is contingent upon that, the administrators said, as it is among the best methods for slowing the virus spread.

“This is about respecting everybody,” Felhofer said. “It’s not just for your own health.”

Felhofer said many classrooms can be rearranged to create six feet of social distancing, but some may not. There will also be areas such as the cafeteria where more students gather.

“Masks at five feet are a whole lot better than no masks at six feet,” Felhofer said. “I don’t see how you open without a mask required.”

Green said masks are being required during the elementary summer school session going on now. About half of the approximately 50 students brought their own, and the rest are using school-supplied ones.

“I think we’re gonna have to show some courage here and get these kids back in school. My position is, I think the kids need to be back in school. How that works, I’m not sure.” -Greenwood Board of Education member Mark Shain “It didn’t faze them at all,” Green said of the children.

Masks can do more than slow the virus spread, he added.

“It does give (students) a sense of security and a sense of safety so they’re not focused on what’s bad in the world. They’re focused on learning,” Green said. “We all have the same main goal. We all want kids back in school. To me, the only way we can do that is to require masks.”

In the event the virus finds its way into the school, Green said the health department can order into isolation anyone who has had close contact with an infected person. Part of the determination on who may have had close contact is if they were wearing a mask. If no one is wearing one, more people can be forced into isolation.

“You can see how fast that can shut down an operation,” Green said.

Green said mask-wearing may allow the school to stay open if a person or two catches coronavirus.

“It may have a different impact if we’re wearing masks than if we weren’t,” he said. “I think we have a better chance of staying open longer.”

Felhofer said the plan chosen by the Board will mean near-normal operations at the elementary school, with classes staying in their own groups most of the day. In the junior/senior high building is where it gets more tricky.

“The elementary sets itself better for in-person,” Felhofer said. “The difficulty is really at the high school where you have transitions every 43 minutes.”

Felhofer said high school students change locations and groups anywhere from 10-12 times each day. The plan is for students in grades 7-9 to eat lunch at one time and grades 10-12 at another, but there still will be mingling of groups.

“We’re still going to have 100 kids at lunch,” Felhofer said. “We’re still going to have some congregate grouping.”

To minimize that, the Board opted for a hybrid reopening plan with the double class periods. On one day, students will attend their first, third, fifth and seventh hour classes for two class periods each, and the next day they will go to second, fourth, sixth and eighth hours. Other changes under consideration include having band students meet one semester, and choral students meeting the other semester, instead of having both meet all year, every-other day.

Other changes that may await students and staff include: — Students in the high school will be assigned every-other locker.

— High school students will each be given a water bottle to fill as bubblers will be turned off.

— Only essential visitors will be allowed past the offices.

— Field trips will be suspended.

— Plexi-glass barriers may be placed at teacher desks, counters, etc.

— Bus routes may be altered, with drivers possibly collecting rural students, dropping them off at school, and then picking up city riders.

With all plans, Felhofer said, they may be subject to change on short notice as virus trends develop. The school may need to slide from one reopening option to another, with even a return to all-virtual learning a possibility if conditions warrant. Face-to-face instruction appears possible now, he said, but, “Two weeks from now that may be unrealistic.” Board member Dean Lindner said the district has to be flexible in responding to changing virus conditions and even to plans that may not work. “Ultimately, we’re not going to be perfect on the first go-around,” Lindner said. “We’ve got to be ready to adjust.”