After missing the final quarter of the 2019-20 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Jasper School District students and parents will see a lot of changes for the upcoming school year that is set to begin for pupils on Thursday, August 6.
According to WJSD Superintendent Warren Woodrow, the district’s board of trustees met last Thursday. During that meeting, the board approved a recommendation made by Woodrow to begin the school year in a “traditional” manner. This means students will return to campus five days a week for school, but there will be major changes with safety precautions in which students and parents will have to make adjustments.
“I recommended and the board voted to have a traditional start to school. By ‘traditional’ I mean the students will come to school and will attend class every day,” Woodrow explained. “We are going to implement a lot of safety protocols, and we are going to practice social distancing as much as possible. The principals and I have met, and we have gone through every scenario. In some instances our teachers will move classes instead of the kids moving. We’ve discussed eating breakfast and lunch in the classroom, rather than eating in a large group, and we’ve discussed staggering class time changes to keep from having so many people in the hallway.”
One of the biggest challenges for students and staff is they will be required to wear masks during the school day and on buses. Students and staff will be provided by the district two washable masks that they must wear, unless they are eating.
“All students and staff will be required to wear the masks, and any parent or visitor to the buildings will also be required to wear a mask,” Woodrow mentioned. “We are going to encourage parents or visitors to call first, and if it is something we can handle through a phone conference, we’d rather do that to limit the students’ exposure.”
Even though social distancing will be heavily in place, Woodrow explained one area the district cannot get around with distancing – school buses.
“We simply don’t have options to transport students any way other than what we always have. That will be one area we will have issues,” he said.
The school district has received federal funds through the CARES Act for special equipment such as thermometers, sanitizing stations, and cleaning supplies to help prevent the potential spread of the virus.
“We have ordered thermometers and devices, and we will check every student’s temperature every morning in the classrooms, and we encourage parents to check their child’s temperature every day. We have ordered extra hand sanitizing stations and extra cleaning supplies. We will disinfect classrooms between every class, and we will throughout the day disinfect commonly touched surfaces like desks and door handles; you name it . . . anything like that. And, we probably won’t use our water fountains. If we do, we’ll probably have a teacher standing there with a cup for water.”
There are also contingency plans in place, according to Woodrow, in case there is a spike in COVID cases or in the event the state orders school districts to do something different.
“If something were to cause school to be closed, such as an executive order from the governor or a severe outbreak of the virus, we have contingencies to run a ‘hybrid’ schedule or a ‘virtual’ schedule. Basically, a hybrid schedule would mean a combination of classroom and online, and virtual would be totally online,” explained Woodrow. “Hopefully it does not come to that because it would be very difficult to teach our young children in that fashion. But, we are going to have a contingency in case we are told to shut down school.”
Woodrow went on to say, in the worst case scenario with online education, that students would be provided a Chromebook computer through federal funds. The district has also gone through the process of purchasing 20 Wi-Fi hot spots where those hot spots could be transported on buses to central locations in communities like parking lots for parents and students to gain Internet access, but those areas would need good cellular phone service. Hot spots would also be available on the school district campus parking lots.
Woodrow said that students need to be back in the classroom.
“After our students, especially the elementary students, missed from Spring Break, on (last year), getting them back in class is critical. We are going to take every safety measure we can to ensure their safety,” he added. “We feel like it is extremely important for our children to be in class and be taught in person.”