MURRAY – The Calloway County Board of Education approved the 2020-21 Back to School Plan during a special called meeting Thursday night.
The board was provided with a 17-page plan prior to the board meeting and Superintendent Tres Settle, Assistant Superintendent Brian Wilmurth and Director of Pupil Personnel Josh McKeel went over the details in a PowerPoint presentation. Settle said the approved plan would be released to the public today on the Calloway County schools website (https://www.callowaycntyschs.ky.schools.bz/). Wilmurth said the document does not detail each building’s individual plan, and that step would come later.
“The Kentucky Department of Education has sent us several documents on back-to-school recommendations and mandatory (requirements), so what we’ve done is compile all those documents – I think there’s seven or eight of those documents – along with recommendations we have received while going back-and-forth with the Calloway County Health Department,” Settle told the Ledger & Times before the meeting.
McKeel thanked the health department’s public health director, Amy Ferguson, and its director of nursing, Kim Paschall, as well as other medical professionals in the community for their help in forming the plan.
“This is a collaborative effort from lots of people in our community” McKeel said. “Several hours have been put into this and we believe we’re going to present to you a sufficient and effective plan that we can move forward with as we plan to go back to school for the 2020-2021 school year,
Wilmurth said it was important to note that the details in the document “are subject to change as directives are provided by governing authorities and/or health officials or as environmental conditions change. The following are general administrative procedures and guidelines that may be altered or changed at any time for the safety of our community.”
The plan states that all students and staff will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms daily, and individuals who present with symptoms will be separated and sent home. Screening protocols are as follows:
• Staff will be required to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms prior to reporting to work each day. A form will be provided for staff to document the completion of self-screening.
• Parents/guardians are expected to screen their students for COVID-19 symptoms each day prior to sending their student to school.
• Upon arrival at school, all students will have their temperature taken. A student with a temperature over 100.4 Fahrenheit will be isolated and sent home.
• Teachers will monitor students during the day and refer them to the front office if symptoms are present.
Isolation protocols for students or staff displaying COVID-19 symptoms are as follows:
• If a student displays symptoms, the school administrators will consult school health professionals to determine if the student is to be sent home.
• Students who are ill will be separated from their peers and should be picked up within 30 minutes and no later than one hour from the time the campus contacts the student’s parent/guardian.
• A student sent home with symptoms may return after being 72 hours symptom free.
• Staff members displaying symptoms will follow district protocols including isolation from students and other staff members.
• Students or staff who come into close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual will be contacted by the local health department and may be asked
to self-quarantine for up to 14 days and not return to campus during that time.
Exposure is defined as being within six feet of an infected individual for more than 30 minutes, Wilmurth said. He said if fewer students return than in a normal school it was possible that students could be spread out more inside the classrooms. If they are more than six feet apart, they would be allowed to temporarily remove their masks, he said. He added that all students must wear masks unless they have a note from a medical doctor stating it would be unsafe for them to do so.
Wilmurth said visitors must call ahead before coming to the school to see if they would even be allowed to enter. Parents will not be allowed to eat lunch in the cafeteria.
“That may be tough for some elementary parents, but we have to limit the number of people in the building to try to cut down on possible exposure,” Wilmurth said. He added that no volunteers would be allowed in the schools until further notice, and unscheduled visits are discouraged.
McKeel said that when transitioning from one classroom to another, students must wear masks, especially with young children since it would be difficult for them to keep more than two or three feet apart while walking through the hallways. He added that schools will stagger transitions so that there will not be too many people in any particular hall at one time.
Settle said schools will be minimizing the amount of books that students take home each night, and book bags will not be allowed at either the high school or middle school this year. He said locker use will also not be allowed at either school.
“These are common areas in a hallway, and when you have lockers side-by-side and students with maybe a locker over the top of another locker, you have students in proximity to each other,” Settle said. “It’s going to be a challenge, obviously, for students and parents alike, but it’s something that we feel is necessary to protect the health and well-being of all students.”
When asked how eliminating bags and lockers would be possible, Settle said the schools are going to be using more virtual learning materials this year and teachers are not going to be sending nearly as much work home as they have in the past.
Settle said the district will encourage parents to transport their children as much as possible because that is the most effective way to prevent spread, but buses will be available for everyone who cannot do so. Masks will be required on-board and buses will be disinfected each time it is emptied, he said.
Regarding meal protocols, the plan says that depending on the number of students in the school, students may have meals in both the cafeteria and in classrooms. Cafeteria capacity will be based on current guidelines and physical distance will be provided around each seat. Meals may be packaged as “grab and go” to ensure ease of pick-up and transport to the eating location. Signage and staff will reinforce physical distance and traffic patterns in the cafeteria, and hand sanitizer stations will be available at entrances and exits of the cafeteria.
Director School Nutrition Programs Pat Lane assured the board that students would get a hot meal and not a sack lunch.
Wilmurth discussed classroom configuration, saying there could be no round tables and that desks must face the same direction. He said they cannot be grouped by four, with desks facing the same way as they often are in elementary schools. Non-essential shared items – for example, a Teddy bear that children take turns holding – must be eliminated from every classroom, and essential shared items must be disinfected between uses.
Wilmurth said administrators have been asked frequently if recess, and P.E. would be allowed, and he assured the board that they would. He noted that gyms are usually the largest room in the school, so there should be no reason students can’t socially distance. He said teachers may also occasionally be able to conduct some lessons outside to give kids a break from wearing masks.
McKeel said the district’s online registration is meant to coincide with today’s release of the back-to-school document, and parents will need to make their final decision between in-person instruction and distance learning with those registrations. He said the district would like to receive all the responses by Aug. 6, but they must be in by Aug. 12 because the schools will have to make staffing decisions. He said the survey the district sent out to families in July had a participation rate of around 70%, but the district needs updated information before formalizing final hiring and staffing.
McKeel said if a student begins distance learning, he or she cannot come back for in-person instruction until after the end of the semester. If a student begins in-person and the parents later decide to transition to distance learning, they may do so, but that student could also not come back until after the end of the semester.
“Unless they were quarantined,” Wilmurth added.
McKeel said that if students are participating in distance learning, they must stay in constant communication with their teachers. Extended school services (ESS) will be available in the evenings if they need extra help, he said.
Board member Scott Lowe commented that parents will need to think very hard through the ramifications before they register their children and make the choice between in-person or virtual instruction.
“I agree,” Settle responded, “and I continue to reiterate that for parents who choose the virtual option, it’s incumbent upon them that they are live participants in their own child’s education. We are going to do the very best we can in offering a quality virtual product, but it will never compare to a teacher, a chalkboard and a classroom full of kids. There are just no better means of instruction, so in the absence of a teacher in person, that parent has to be willing to accept some responsibility and help their children along, especially in the primary grades.
“That’s really my worry; again, that’s the genesis of education – kindergarten, first, second and third grade. It’s so important to so many skill sets, and if you make that decision to go virtual with your child in early education, there’s a large responsibility that comes with that. I want to make that abundantly clear. I know our teachers are worried about it, as I am. They’ve worked very hard to build what I believe is a top-notch product, so we’re going to have to work together on this if you choose that option.”
Board member Mitch Ryan asked what would determine the extent of a closure if a COVID-19 outbreak occurred. Wilmurth said the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the Kentucky Board of Education, the Calloway Health Department and the superintendent all have the authority to close a school if it were deemed necessary.
“We’ve discussed this before, but for the general public, I think it’s important to note that this year, it is possible that we could have one school in our district that is closed to in-person classes and the others are fine,” Settle said. “We could even have one grade level in one school close and those students could be on virtual (learning) for a limited period of time if there was a risk of exposure or it was a recommendation of the health department. So again, schools may look a lot different in many ways, that being one of them. That’s a great question, Mr. Ryan, and there are several entities and several factors that could be involved in school closings.”
The board also approved the district’s master bell schedule, which sets the daily arrival and departure times for each school. The board already approved the master schedule during the May meeting. Kentucky schools are required to have 1,062 instructional hours, and McKeel said that because the district set its 2020-21 calendar at 160 school days, the days had to be lengthened slightly because 399 instructional minutes would be required each day. He said each school in the district will have a schedule of 399 or 400 minutes, which does not include non-instructional minutes such as lunch or recess.
The daily instructional schedule for each school will be as follows:
• East Calloway Elementary – 7:45 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.
• North Calloway Elementary – 7:43 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.
• Southwest Calloway Elementary – 7:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.
• Calloway County Middle School – 7:55 a.m. to 3:03 p.m.
• Calloway County High School – 7:55 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.
• Calloway County Day Treatment Center – 7:55 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Both the Calloway and Murray Independent school districts have scheduled classes to begin on Monday, Aug. 24. The MISD board approved its school reopening plan at its July monthly meeting, although MISD Public Information Officer Sherry Purdom said the board still has to approve the schools’ daily schedules.