For the first time since COVID-19 shut down schools in March, on Monday night the Webster County School Board publicly discussed what schools might look like when classes resume in August.
“We want to come back at capacity,” said Superintendent Rhonda Callaway. “We’ve started to narrow down a plan, but its just a plan. We also have to have a back up plan.”
Public schools in the state of Kentucky may be one of the most strictly controlled areas when it comes to COVID-19 reopening. School officials are getting weekly guidance and directives from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the Kentucky Department of Health (KDH), the governor’s office and even the Kentucky High School Athletics Association (KHSAA).
School officials must take direction from all of those different sources and hammer out a plan that still allows them to educate students. That plan then has to be approved by the state, which is monitoring districts very closely.
Callaway said that Webster County officials are first looking at how feasible it will be to return to school in as close to the traditional format as possible. Although not out of the question, that approach will take some work.
When schools reopen, students coming into the buildings will be required to wear masks and will likely have to get their temperature checked upon entering the building. Faculty and staff will be required to wear face masks any time they are around students.
However, Callaway said that according to the current restrictions, students would not be required to wear masks at school when social distancing was possible. That means if desks in classrooms could be kept at least six feet apart, students would be allowed to remove their masks while in the room.
Teachers, however, would have to wear their masks even if social distancing was possible.
Officials recently went to each of the schools in the district and attempted to see whether classrooms could be set up in a way that would allow full capacity while meeting social distancing guidelines.
Clay and Providence Elementary Schools passed with flying colors and would seemingly have no problem operating at full capacity. Sebree Elementary, on the other hand, wasn’t even close.
Webster County Middle School and High School didn’t quite reach the standard officials were looking for, but it wasn’t entirely ruled out. Callaway said it would be “tough” to reach capacity under the current guidelines.
Dixon Elementary was close on classroom size, but had a larger issue with the overall square footage of the building itself which would make social distancing difficult.
Beyond classroom size, schools must also find a way to feed their entire student body while not violating social distancing. Callaway said that one option was to feed students in the classroom. Another was to serve meals in the gym.
Callaway said she and food service director Val Knight are scheduled to participate in a web meeting on Thursday that will hopefully provide further guidelines.
For students who take the bus to school, the KDH has lifted social distancing restrictions, but students will be required to have their temperature checked upon entering the bus, and they must wear a mask during the entire trip.
Currently Webster County has 24 bus routes. Ten of those buses have monitors, which will be able to take and record temperatures as students board. On the other 14, the drivers will have to handle that task, meaning altering pickup times may be necessary.
Officials are also working to get fall sports programs ready, but they find themselves heavily restricted in that area as well. Currently the district is only permitting athletes to work outdoors and in groups of ten or less. Scrimmages and drills are prohibited.
Board member Cameron Edwards, a former WCHS football players, expressed his concern over the safety of student athletes, especially those on the football team.
“We will likely see more injuries this fall than we’re used to due to a lack of time preparing physically,” Edwards said. “Football especially is different than other sports. You can’t just walk on the field and play football.”
Callway said that every sports related decision is being made in conjunction with the health department.
In other business, the district administration team has released a survey to students and parents about the Link2Learn (L2L) process that was used this fall. Currently, only 738 responses have been returned.
Parents and students alike are being asked to visit the district’s website and complete the survey as it will help shape L2L and the learning environment in the coming school year.
Contact Matt Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-667-2069