MONROE — More than 30 people listened in to the School District of Monroe regular board meeting held via teleconference July 13 as discussion of plans for reopening to students in the fall while also trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 continued.
The board favored using decision making criteria through the state classification system that breaks down counties by activity level based on number of cases. Monroe would fall into Plan A if Green County fell into a “low and medium” category but would move to Plan B in the “high” category. The district administrator would have the authority to move to Plan B based on active cases among students, staff and public health trends in the community.
Green County activity levels moved to the “high” category as of last week.
New topics at the meeting centered around custodial plans, transportation, wearing masks and other protocols that would need to be in place to open the school to students in the fall.
Prior to the its meeting June 22, the school board held listening sessions via teleconference and conducted an online survey to include input from parents and staff. District Administrator Rick Waski said feedback from those was used to develop the drafted plans.
The changes since the board’s last meeting came in part from Green County Public Health, Waski said. Recommendations that came from the Department of Public Instruction were also more closely reviewed.
Director of Pupil Services Joe Monroe said RoAnn Warden, director of public health, reviewed and was comfortable with the school’s proposed plan after changes were added, like including masks for students as well as staff and adding a 14-day quarantine to those who came in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing would also need to be done after a positive result, to determine who would go into quarantine.
“It’s an opportunity to get students in school and provide as much face-to-face education as we can in a safe manner,” Monroe said.
In both Plan A and Plan B, students and staff members would be required to wear masks or face shields. It was not specified whether students would be required to wear masks in clubs or sports.
Waski said according to surveys it was apparent that most parents didn’t want their children to wear masks. However, teachers and staff are in favor of it since studies show that transmission is slowed when masks are worn properly.
“It’s naïve to suggest that we believe 100% of our students will wear masks all the time,” Monroe said, noting that some students have medical needs, cognitive disabilities, emotional/behavioral issues and other factors that may prevent them from wearing a mask.
Monroe said systems and strategies throughout the building will be put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, including things like the placement of sanitizer stations at high touch and traffic locations, and students moving less between classes and in hallways.
Some parts of the plan bring worry, like the quarantine required for students and staff who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“I have deep concerns about being able to staff our building this fall,” Waski said. Although Plan C allows full at-home learning and any family can choose that option, Waski said it’s more likely that the school could be forced into that plan due to not having enough staff. Currently, families for about 125 students have opted for Plan C.
Monroe said any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 will be denied readmittance to the school until they’re cleared from a medical professional. Those who have been exposed, which is defined by the health department as anyone that has been within six feet of someone for 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period who has tested positive for COVID-19, will be quarantined.
“This is forcing us to think long and hard to do our best to minimize close contact with each other,” Monroe said.
Another topic discussed was transportation and how students would safely get to and from school. Waski said it’s simply not possible to social distance on a school bus.
However, in an effort to keep students safe there would be some rules in place. For example, families would have a single daily route option to limit the potential of cross contamination across multiple routes. There would also be a seating chart utilized where students from the same home would be assigned to share a seat.
Depending on which plan the school is following, some short in-town routes could be added and may need to loop and stagger with elementary schools. Concerns realized are finding drivers among an already aging workforce.
Principals from each school building also gave feedback at the meeting, explaining how teaching duties would change. In Plan B, teachers will be expected to not only have a face-to-face classroom that changes weekly, but also will need to provide support to those online. Teachers will also likely need to implement time for technology preparation, creating videos for student instruction and assessment of the curriculum and students.
“Flexibility is going to be the key,” Waski said.
In Plan B the board discussed splitting students alphabetically, but said if that was done, they would need to be strict about not allowing exceptions. However, board member Teresa Keehn asked the board to revisit that, having concerns with limitations for famlies who may need alternative days.
The board will meet again July 21 to continue the discussion and plans to approve a final plan for the School District of Monroe on July 27.
The school would operate much like it has in the past and students would attend school each day. Staff and students would wear masks or face shields and additional accommodations would be made for cleanliness. Student gatherings would be reduced and the weekly schedule would be modified for more cleaning. A 6-foot social distance is not realistic under this plan, but effort would be made to spread out students as much as possible.
Students would be divided into two groups, mostly likely alphabetically, where just over 50% would attend school each week in person and the other group would learn virtually. Although administrators did evaluate a plan where students would attend half days on an alternating basis or two days alternating, the proposed plan would allow for additional precautions like temperature checks, social distancing, reducing student gathering sizes, closing the Monroe High School campus for lunch and reduced movement of students inside the building. Both students and staff would be required to wear masks or face shields.
All students would learn virtually due to severe COVID-19 conditions in the schools or in the county. Families will have the option to choose Plan C.