School district establishes reopening plan

Jeff Guy
The school district is preparing for classes and taking steps to ensure the safety of students and staff.

Next week, beginning Tuesday, Sept. 8, students will be in the school buildings of USD 353, attending classes for the first time since March. The district is taking steps to ensure social distancing is followed and people are kept safe.

All students, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks at schools, but exemptions can be made if it is unsafe for an individual to wear a mask.

Students will have a hybrid schedule in which the students attend classes remotely via computer for half the day and attend classes in person for the other half of the school day. Half the students will attend in the morning and half will attend in the afternoon,

“That allows us to cut student numbers in half, which puts less students in the building and allows us to follow health guidelines,” USD 353 Superintendent Adam Hatfield said.

Parents of elementary students received letters in the mail last week, telling them whether their children would be in the AM or PM group. Parents with students in secondary school received emails from the principals.

“The hybrid schedule is not easy on parents whatsoever,” Hatfield said. “They’re working and we very much recognize that. We all have children as well and it is a tough situation.”

The district is meeting with the Sumner County Health Department weekly. Hatfield will be communicating to the public every Wednesday what the district will do in the coming week “just to let everyone know where we’re at and where the future’s headed,” he said.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful to the community and hopefully have things ready to go when needed so we can hopefully curb an outbreak here in the community.”

The district will start the school year in the “yellow phase,” meaning there will be a hybrid schedule. A green phase would mean all students would be in the school building like on a normal day, and the red phase would mean all school is being conducted remotely.

“We don’t know from week to week what specific phase we will be in,” Hatfield said. “We are going to follow health guidelines and follow medical professionals’ advice so we can keep kids as safe as possible.”

Parents have two choices - either to have their child attend school in person, which will mean the hybrid schedule, or to go completely remote for the school year, Hatfield said.

School hours were shortened last school year when the school went completely remote, but the hours will resemble a normal school day more this school year, Hatfield said.

“We have to be able to have people be a part of the educational process” Hatfield said. “If we have a student that’s quarantined, we want them to still be able to be part of the educational process remotely. If we have a teacher that’s quarantined, we want them to be able to connect with students from a remote location.”

Students will attend school for half days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. They will be learning remotely from home on Wednesdays. However, if there is a short week, due to a holiday, inservice, etc. students may be attending school on Wednesdays. Students will be attending school on Wednesday, Sept. 9 because it is a four day week.

School days have been extended by 15 minutes this school year to make up for the late start and so the school year can end on the day planned for, May 21.

Flexibility is everything in planning the 2020-21 school year, Hatfield said.

“This is the first time that any of us have put anything like this together,” he said. “We understand that this is best laid plans and we’re going to get into it and work hard to adjust as we go and do the best we can for everybody. We really appreciate everybody’s patience.

“The board has approved our reopening plan three times as we’ve continued to adapt it and they’ve done a great job in helping us with ideas for that.”

The district will be trying to limit populations at sporting events to 25 percent. Student participants will receive a limited number of tickets to give to family members. The ticket allows people entry into the games. They will still have to pay to enter, Hatfield said.

“We really hate doing that,” Hatfield said. “We know that’s really tough on families. We’re going to try to have sports this year and this is better than not having them at all.”

The district will be working on live streaming games, but that might not be completely in place until the winter sports season, Hatfield said.

It may be impossible to predict how long the modifications will have to stay in place.

“I don’t know the answer to that as far as when a vaccine finally curbs this,” Hatfileld said. “I know we’re all looking forward to the world returning to normal, that’s for sure.”