Luxemburg-Casco schools make ‘preliminary’ plan for in-person classes with online option
LUXEMBURG – The Luxemburg-Casco School District approved a preliminary plan at its July 15 meeting that laid out a framework for full-time, in-person classes for the 2020-21 school year, with an option for online learning, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key word is "preliminary," of course. District staff have spent most of their workdays working out the specifics of how the plan will be put into action. Those details are scheduled to be presented to the board in a special meeting Aug. 5.
And that's while bearing in mind that the course of the pandemic could change dramatically between now and the start of the school year, scheduled for Sept. 1, which could cause the plan to be modified. School districts across the state are in the same boat as they work out their plans to educate students while keeping them and their staffs safe from the COVID-19 virus, all while knowing those plans could change within the next five weeks.
"It's complicated, challenging, difficult," L-C Superintendent Glenn Schlender said. "And the thing is, everybody's dealing with it."
The plan from which L-C is working calls for children to be able to attend school in person if they or their parents want (unless on-site instruction is restricted) but also requires them to wear face masks when social distancing is difficult or impossible. Teachers and other staff members also will be required to use masks in similar situations. Mask exemptions will be considered for those with disabilities or medical issues.
Upon entering the school, students and staff will have their temperature taken with a temporal scanner and possibly undergo other screening steps, according to guidelines. Students with a temperature of more than 100 degrees will be escorted to the nurse’s office where their parent will be contacted and required to take them home. Staff members with a fever that high will be sent home, too.
Students who aren't comfortable returning to the school buildings would take virtual classes. Unlike the virtual lessons held after schools were closed this past spring, which usually were video recorded for the students' convenience, the new plan calls for them to be viewed in real time as the lessons are being held in the classrooms.
Students can take a school bus to and from school but must wear masks while riding and waiting for the bus. Arranging rides to and from school is encouraged.
The plan also states that if the number of active COVID-19 cases significantly increases in Kewaunee County, or if the state mandates another school closure, the district will have plans in place for all virtual learning as was done in the spring. It also is making plans for a hybrid learning system (some in-person, some virtual) if a limit on the number of people in a gathering is put in place.
Also, hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout all the buildings.
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Schlender told the Star-News the preliminary plan was shaped in part from the results of a survey taken in early July of students' parents and school district staff. The survey indicated about 80% would be mostly or very comfortable having their children attend school in person and 74% would prefer to resume traditional in-school education with health precautions in place.
The survey also indicated all staff members would report for in-school classes, although about 27% expressed reservations because their age or medical conditions put them at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
Schlender noted, though, that at the time the survey was issued, Kewaunee County was reporting nine or 10 active cases of COVID-19. That number ballooned to 24 last week and has declined slightly but still remains in the high teens.
The plan also came from frequent consultation with the Kewaunee County Public Health Department, Bellin Health (the school's health partner) and other school districts across the state. Schlender said it was vetted and given a thumbs-up by the health department, Bellin, the district's legal counsel and insurance liability carrier before it was presented to the board.
Schlender said the district will send another survey to get feedback on details now being formulated within the plan.
"The devil is in the details," Schlender said. "How are we going to do bathrooms, how are we going to do masks, going between classes, and things like that."
Two levels of teams are working to finalize those details. There's a district-level team looking at big-picture questions, and there is a team for each of the district's four buildings — high, middle, intermediate and primary schools — to consider elements that need to be considered for their students that don't apply in the other buildings, such as if students need to move from room to room.
"There are things that are going to be specific to each building," Schlender said. "High school doesn't have recess, for example."
Schlender thinks social distancing may not be a problem in classrooms. He said the average class size is about 25 students, and if 80% of students return for in-person lessons, that works out to 20 students per room. He added that measurements showed most rooms can seat about 22 students while maintaining the recommended 6 feet of separation between them.
Plus, some furniture such as shelving or extra tables may end up being moved out of the rooms to make extra space.
Besides requiring masks where needed, the district will set up portable, clear, plastic shields on tables between students in rooms and other places where distancing may be tight.
Schlender said that between now and the start of the school year, he hopes parents are able to work out ways to have carpool and then have the adults share the task of driving the kids to and from school. The survey said about 70% of parents are willing to bring their children to school or arrange private transportation.
He also mentioned the possibility of children who take online classes getting together in small groups to ease the strain on the county's bandwidth and on the parents themselves.
Schlender said a big concern is the health of the teachers, because if one contracts the virus and will be quarantined for up to two weeks, substitute teachers, who have become difficult to find even in good conditions, would need to weigh the pluses and minuses of immersing themselves in a room or building full of strangers for that time.
Cindy Kinnard, the county health department director, was asked what kind of absenteeism level is needed to close the school. "And she said it's not the student level that would close the school, but staff," Schlender said. "We're very diligently communicating with our substitutes to find out who's comfortable coming back, who can commit to a long-term situation."
The plan is getting a head start with in-person summer school opening Monday. Schlender said it's not a perfect test run because of the limited number of students, but it may offer some insights.
Those taking online classes won't end up staring at a video screen seven hours a day. Schelnder said the livestreamed lessons will be mixed with activities and exercises based on the lessons, such as a reading assignment.
Of course, the extra precautions will cost the district money. Schlender said the district already used some of its fund balance in the spring to buy portable hot spots for the computers of students in areas with poor Wi-Fi reception, but now it's looking at extra cleaning and sanitizing. It did receive 4,000 masks and eight temperature scanners from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction but will need to buy more.
"Sanitation … I don't know if it's an increase in staff so much as an increase in hours," Schlendar said. The supplied masks and thermometers "are not enough. That's why districts have fund balances, for times like this."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Luxemburg-Casco schools make 'preliminary' plan for in-person classes with online option