As we look ahead to the start of the 2020-2021 school year, there is a lot of uncertainty.
As we move forward, I want to address some questions that have been asked regarding what our plans are for the coming school year. As we have seen in recent months, all things are subject to change. Some of those decisions and plans, such as school closure this spring, we had little to no control over (except for the first couple of days). Others such as what we will do this fall, at least right now, are local decisions.
Almost all of us would agree our kids need to be back in school. There are so many things that students miss by being away. Education, food, mental and social well-being, and more are all affected by being away from a regular school environment. The original closure last year was for the most part intended to flatten the curve of the spread of the COVID 19 virus. Now we look to move forward. As we prepare for a seated summer school and the regular school year, we want to provide a safe environment for our students and staff, recognizing however the need to be in school.
Summer school is still set to begin July 20. This will be an abbreviated two week summer school with the purpose of providing enrichment and reinforcement of learning for students attending. Classes will be available for K-8 and potentially a couple of high school courses. Transportation will be provided if needed, however, we encourage parents to drop-off and pick-up students when they can. Breakfast and lunch will be served as well. Our meal distribution ended June 29, but we will pick up with regular summer school meals served in the elementary cafeteria on July 20. This will also give us as a school the opportunity to gauge where we are at as we prepare for all of our students to be back for the regular school year on Aug. 24.
There will be several practices/procedures in place as we start summer school and the regular school year. We will be looking at :
- Regular sanitizing of buses , classrooms and other traffic areas
- Spacing and/or assigned bus seats
- Hand sanitizer on buses, in each classroom, and in common areas
- Regular handwashing
- Limitations on visitors to the district during the school day
- Social distancing where possible
- Staggered release and coordination of students to avoid large gatherings or times where students are “packed” in a small area
- Student screening by school nurse and teacher training to observe signs of illness in students
- Optional masks for students and staff (Mandatory in some situations)
- Quarantine room for students waiting to be picked up
- Use of water bottle filling stations as opposed to regular drinking fountains
These are some of the changes we are examining. More guidance will be coming out over the next week or two. These may change as we draw closer to summer school and the start of the regular school year. Our intent is to provide you with a plan by or around Aug. 1 of what school will look like at the start.
We have had and will continue to have great communication with the Texas County Health Department as well as representatives from Texas County Memorial Hospital. We have also met with other Texas County schools to determine best steps forward that fit us here locally. In any occurrence of a positive case of a student or staff member, we will release what information we can. That may look like “we had a positive case confirmed in our elementary, our middle school, etc.” We cannot and will not release the name of the person testing positive due to privacy laws. It will be up to the health department to do contact tracing with the school’s assistance and notification of those who had reasonable contact with the infected person(s). This will also fit the health department’s definition of contact. Being in the same room more than 6 feet apart or passing in the hallway may not be sufficient enough to be considered contact. We will also have procedures in place to sanitize areas where this person was located should this occur. This may be done overnight or could result in a missed day. The health department will have guidelines for quarantining of confirmed positive cases or those with exposure.
Our emphasis on attendance will also change. As parents, you can help by watching for symptoms of illness. These include fever, runny nose and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported in children. If a student is found with symptoms of Covid 19, they will be sent home and have to meet certain guidelines for return. Some students may have underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions or weak immune systems that may make them more susceptible. It is imperative that you watch for these symptoms and if your child is sick, keep them home. Perfect attendance and other incentives will have to be revised or changed as we look for a new normal.
Other activities, including clubs, sports, band and choir will be dependent on where we as a school are at, but also, where other schools around us and around the state are at during any given specific time. At best, these will proceed with precautionary practices in place.
We are watching and preparing for several different scenarios. Our hope is that we can resume a somewhat normal year.
Have a great rest of your summer!
Dr. Allen Moss is superintendent of the Houston School District. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.