By Amber Hobaugh and Drew Bergman
At this past Thursday’s meeting of the Adair County School Board district leaders unveiled their plan for reopening Adair County Schools. While Adair County Schools have adopted Governor Beshear’s recommendations for delaying the start of in-person instruction until September 28 of this year, this plan will remain in place when in-person instruction resumes.
Though their reopening plans are based around keeping students distanced and limiting their interactions with each other, educators are trying to balance that reality against the desires of Adair’s parents and students. “We’ve received lots of emails over the last couple of months saying please don’t make our kids feel like they are in jail,” Superintendent Pamela Stephens said. “We are going to be encouraging all teachers to take your students outside at least once every hour. If you want to go outside and have a science lesson, great.”
Dr. Stephens went on to say that the crux of the first few weeks of school was, more so than in other years, going to be built around reacclimating students to school and looking after their social and mental well-being. “It doesn’t matter what age they are. We have 17-year-olds that are suffering because of this isolation. We also know we have 3 and 4-year-olds suffering with it as well.”
Adair County Schools have adopted a three-light stoplight system that will help quickly and efficiently communicate with parents during the Covid-19 pandemic.
With ACS’s the Green light tier, the district has given parents two options for instruction: in-person and distance learning. In-person learning would involve a typical school week in terms of scheduling, but with structural limitations in the interactions between students and their teachers to promote social distancing. Distance learning requires students to participate in either live or pre-recorded instruction online.
“For a student or parent to choose virtual learning, they must have a reliable internet access, and that is a must for them to choose virtual,” Dr. Stephens said. “I don’t want to… have anyone feel that students who do not have internet access, they don’t have the opportunity for an education, that is not true.”
Preschoolers and Kindergartners will be issued iPads and students in grades 1-12 will be issued Chromebooks. There will be a $15 insurance fee per device. “If a keyboard malfunctions, we can replace it,” Dr. Stephens explained. “It is an insurance policy against whatever happens to the device at home. So unfortunately for a family of three, yes, they have to pay for each device. They only have to pay that if they take the device home. If they are only working on it at school, they don’t have to pay that.”
Students may transition from in-person classes to distance learning at any time but may only transfer from distance learning to in-person instruction at the end of a nine-week grading period. If at any time the Covid-19 pandemic is considered over and all emergency orders are lifted, there will be an immediate transition for all students to in-person classes.
All students and staff will have their temperature taken daily. Faculty members, including bus drivers, and students in grades 1-12 will be required to wear a mask when moving throughout the building or when social distancing isn’t feasible. Students will also be required to wear masks while riding a bus. “The difference there is that education is a right, transportation is a privilege. So, to ride the bus and do it safely, we require a mask,” Dr. Stephens said. There will be special considerations given to those students and staff with medical or educational circumstances.
When asked about the possibility of including the mask as part of the school’s dress code, as has been done in Oldham County, the Superintendent said “No because the legal advice that I received said do not put in your dress code because you automatically have non-compliance because honestly, we can’t make them wear a mask. We can’t say you cannot come into our building if you don’t have a mask on because constitutionally you have a right to an education.”
Students or staff exhibiting symptoms will be isolated, as will anyone who registers a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees. Any student exhibiting symptoms will have adult supervision and their parents will be contacted.
Commons areas will be used in limited circumstances and students will go directly to their classrooms to avoid large group gatherings. Hand washing practices will be intentionally taught and reinforced. Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout schools and on each bus. Appropriate signage will be utilized to promote social distancing, hand washing practices and other Covid-19 precautions. Cleaning and disinfecting efforts are intentional and will be more frequent especially in high traffic and high touch areas. Buses will be cleaned and disinfected after each run.
There will be no outside food permitted to students including for birthday parties and celebrations. “Breakfast will be available as the student comes in, they will pick it up and go to the classroom to eat,” Dr. Stephens said. “The only way to serve hot lunches is serve it in the cafeteria and gymnasium. The cooks will serve the food. That’s the only way we can serve hot lunches. If we try to put them on carts and feed 500, we can’t guarantee the temperature of that food and that is… up to standard.”
After school and extracurricular activities may continue with all the requirements imposed by the state which will include possible restrictions on the number of students and/or spectators. Spectators may also be required to wear masks and the number of spectators may be limited based on the venue’s seating capacity. The district will assess group gatherings and events and possibly look at alternatives for non-essential gatherings.
If the community has a sharp surge in cases that could possibly affect the quarantine of staff or students or if there are cases within the Adair County Schools, the Yellow light tier will be implemented following guidance from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.
Under the yellow light tier, contact tracing will be utilized to identify any students and classrooms the student or staff member has been in contact with. Those classrooms affected will be completely disinfected. At that time, the guidelines listed in the green light tier will stay in effect and the following changes will be made within Adair County Schools.
Schools and the district will conduct a review of any students with increased health risk and the need for them to move to distance learning. As of the meeting the superintendent did not have any information available regarding the proportion of faculty and staff members who are over 50 and therefore already at an elevated risk from COVID-19 before factoring in other health considerations.
Commons areas will be restricted and any use will be considered essential and closely supervised for adherence to social distancing. Students will also not be permitted to share lockers.
The district will consider staggering arrival times and locations for buses and car riders. All non-essential visitors will not be permitted. All field trips will be canceled. Students will have designated recess times and areas. These times will be staggered and a plan will be implemented for disinfecting playground equipment.
If the community has a drastic and significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases that directly impact multiple staff members and/or students or if there are multiple cases in multiple schools, the district will then move to the red light tier.
At that time, the district will follow guidance from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department with the possibility of a prolonged dismissal. School cases, community cases and contact tracing will be closely monitored.
The red light tier could apply to an individual school, more than one school or the entire school district. In person classes will be dismissed and virtual learning or Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) will be fully implemented.
As to the question of what the threshold for would be triggering a shutdown to one or more of the schools Dr. Stephens said, “No. we don’t want to tie our hands to anything. We want to listen to what is going on and that includes the staff. If we see that we need to shut down and in talking with the health department we need to shut down, we will. We are not going to try to persist just to be open. But we want to be open if at all possible, because of the number of kids that need to be back in school. There’s not a right and wrong answer on this, that’s the bad part.”
Virtual learning or NTI will be implemented for a period of time that may or may not be established at the time of dismissal. This period of time will be utilized to keep larger amounts of people from gathering and help slow the spread of the virus.
All non-essential meetings and activities will be cancelled, and the use of virtual meetings will be reenacted. Students’ meals would be served and transported using a plan developed by the Adair County Food Service staff.
For more information on this three light system you can visit www.adair.k12.ky.us