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Ready for reentry

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Humansville Elementary School teacher Trina Kennon looks over her lesson plans for the upcoming school year. Polk County students are expected to return to their classrooms this fall after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person learning during the spring. 

Humansville Elementary School teacher Trina Kennon said she misses the lively, joyful experience of teaching a classroom full of students.

The district, along with every other in Polk County and across the state, closed its classroom doors and moved instruction online and via learning packets in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some others opted to hold in-person or online summer schools, Humansville did not. 

So, when R-4 students take their seats later this month, it will be for the first time in about five months. 

“We haven’t really seen our kids in person since March,” Kennon said. Kennon said she’s taking safety measures, as part of the district’s reentry plan to mitigate the risks, but still, she knows this year will likely look different. 

“We’re taking a lot of steps,” she said. 

Thumbing through a binder of lesson plans, Kennon said she’s ready.

“We’ve missed our kids,” she said. “We’ve all missed them.”

Humansville R-4 superintendent Tammy Erwin said she knows the 2020-21 school year will be like no other her community has ever experienced. 

According to its reopening plan, Humansville students have the option of face-to-face or virtual at home learning plans.  

“The face-to-face education modifications will be impacted by the virus in our county, community and school,” Erwin said.

Planning for their return has been challenging, Erwin said. But, it’s for the best. 

“Lengthy time away from school is not good for our students and honestly, our staff as well,” she said. “Preparing for the unknown is hard. No decision will make everyone happy.”

District stakeholders took their time carefully making those decisions, Erwin said. 

Humansville formed a task force, which included administration, staff members, health professionals and the Polk County Health Center. The group devised a pair of surveys, one for parents, guardians, students and community members and one for staff, then met multiple times to discuss the responses in open meetings. 

The district’s reopening plan was approved by the Humansville board of education on Wednesday, July 15.

The final product calls for enhanced cleaning and social distancing policies, along with a “green,” “yellow” and “red” system to make the determination of what the learning day will look like and the severity of the guidelines in place. 

A green day results from no district cases and no large spike in county cases. A yellow day means no district cases, but a large spike in county cases or community spread. A red day results from cases in the district and large community or county spread. 

Red days could mean cancellations of activities, possible closure of campuses and alternative learning methods, or “masks possibly recommended for certain grade levels to continue face to face learning,” the plan states. 

“Planning for this year may create some inconveniences, but if we work together as a community, we will help ensure that our students, staff and faculty will stay healthy and will reduce the chance of significant educational disruptions,” Erwin said. 

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Trina Kennon hangs decorations and signs around her Humansville classroom. 

Protecting Polk County

Other districts have also recently announced plans for resuming in-person classes this fall. 

Generally, each calls for increased social distancing, assigned seating, enhanced cleaning, and also makes plans to continue education should campuses close again. 

Bolivar R-1 schools recently announced its re-entry plan, including guidelines requiring all students, staff and volunteers to wear masks on district campuses. 

Members of the R-1 board of education have met weekly to discuss re-entry. District administrative assistant Sheila Anderson told the BH-FP Thursday, July 30, the mask guidelines weren’t subject to a board vote. 

Find minutes from the meeting at BolivarMoNews.com.

According to the plan, R-1’s calendar will remain the same and students will report back to school on Monday, Aug. 24. 

Changes among those listed in the district’s comprehensive 34-page plan include canceling large events, like assemblies and celebrations, and breakfast eaten in classrooms. 

“At this time, all students will attend school five days per week,” the plan states. “Registration will determine if secondary students attend four days per week. By August 7 we will notify secondary students of their weekly schedule.”

If a campus needs to be temporarily closed, plans call for a mix of online and alternative instructional methods. 

“As a district, we are working diligently to provide the safest learning environment,” the plan states. “Please understand we may need to make changes in the future to further protect students and staff. We encourage flexibility among our entire learning community.”

In Fair Play, superintendent Renee Sagaser said the district has also adopted a color-coded system to determine what each day will look like. 

According to the district’s re-entry plan, in the absence of district cases and a large community spike, “students will notice very little difference.”

Additional cleaning and distancing will be emphasized, the plan states. 

In the event of cases within the district, or a large community spike or spread, Fair Play will “close face-to-face school in one or more buildings.”

“Most likely, all buildings will be closed, but if there is a possibility we can continue at a specific building, we want that option,” the plan states. 

If schools are closed, meals will be provided to go or delivered by buses, according to the plan. 

Halfway superintendent Lance Roweton said the district hasn’t yet finalized its re-entry plan. 

“Our plan is coming out next week,” he said Tuesday, July 28. 

Marion C. Early superintendent Josh Angel described the process as difficult.

“Trying to balance the educational needs of our students with the safety recommendations has been a challenge,” he said. “We feel that we have a good plan in place to meet the needs of our students and community.”

MCE’s back-to-school plan calls for a return to seated learning. 

“We feel we can provide the best education for our students on site and in our classrooms,” Angel said. “Currently, we are planning for our students to return to school full time with safety measures in place.”

Still, there’s only so much they can do, he said. 

“These plans are intended to mitigate, not eliminate, risk,” the plan states. “No single action or set of actions will eliminate the risk of COVID-19. The goal of physical distancing is to limit the spread of the virus.”

According to the plan, the district bought washable face masks for all students and staff. 

While the use of face coverings is “highly encouraged and will not be prohibited in any instance throughout the school day,” it’s also required for students in grades 6-12 “when physical distancing measures cannot be maintained,” like during passing periods, lunch lines and prolonged periods of close contact small group instruction.

Staff members are required to wear a face covering in any instance physical distancing cannot be maintained, the plan states. 

“Due to possible medical related concerns, we understand not all students and staff will be able to wear face coverings for prolonged periods,” the plan states. 

The policy is covered under the district’s existing dress code. 

Angel said the district will offer an online option taught by MCE teachers for students whose parents aren’t comfortable sending them to school this fall. 

The district will also offer three learning settings, including blended and completely online options. Which setting the district utilizes will depend on Polk County Health Center guidelines regarding increased social distancing or closures. 

“We believe that seated face-to-face school is the best platform for learning,” the plan states. “Unfortunately, there may come a time when providing this learning environment will not be possible.”

In a letter to campus staff, Pleasant Hope High School principal Brent Offerdahl affirmed what many educators in the county may be feeling

“We believe that seated face-to-face school is the best platform for learning,” he said. “Unfortunately, there may come a time when providing this learning environment will not be possible.”

Pleasant Hope will require high school and middle school students and staff to wear masks in school at all times, with the exception of PE classes.

The district’s elementary school re-entry plan does not include a mask policy but does stipulate similar social distancing and enhanced cleaning.

“Masks are optional for grades preschool through fourth grade, as well as teachers at these grade levels,” a letter from PHES principal Jessica Johnson states.

If campuses close, all campus plans defer education to virtual classrooms. Students without home internet access will be given wireless hotspots, which were “purchased to ensure all students have online access from home if needed.”

Erwin, like all area administrators, said the process has worn on everyone. Coupled with projected state budget cuts to education, districts, many already stretched, will be pushed even further. 

“But in the end, always without question, we will do what is best for the students of Humansville,” she said. “We will make sure they are fed, cared for, educated and loved in the safest environment possible.”

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Classroom decorations, signs and supplies have been placed with care inside Humansville Elementary School teacher Trina Kennon’s classroom. 

 

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