By John R. Schirmer
The Nashville School Board Monday night approved the district’s Covid-19 guidelines for the 2020-21 academic year.
The plan offers on-site and virtual instruction and outlines steps which the district will take “to provide as safe an experience as possible that includes a rich educational experience, with opportunities for social interaction and extra-curricular activities while adhering to guidelines provided by the Arkansas Department of Health.”
Superintendent Doug Graham said the plan likely will be updated because of changes from ADH and the Arkansas Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
District officials spent the last three or four weeks working on the plan, Graham said, often conducting their meetings on Zoom.
“We have to be ready to start” Aug. 24, Graham said. The original date was Aug. 13, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson changed the opening to Aug. 24 at the earliest in order to provide more time to prepare.
The change will require the district to revise its calendar for the academic year. Graham told board members that work is underway on a new calendar.
Graham is back on the job after being hospitalized in Hot Springs for coronavirus. He said he attended Nashville High School graduation Friday night and saw 102 seniors walk out of a class of 114. “It’s easy to get emotional. I just enjoy every graduation. It’s one of the Scrapper traditions that means a lot, along with extra-curricular activities and academic opportunities. We think we offered a great program before Covid came up on us. Those seniors lost out on a lot. I’m tickled to death over having graduation. Nashville has always been one of the best to host an event in a classy way.”
The event adhered to state and federal guidelines. Graduates and all who attended were required to wear masks and follow social distancing rules.
Face coverings – Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arkansas Department of Health guidelines, all adults will be required to wear face coverings at school. All students in grades 4-12 will be required to wear face coverings. Students in grades K-3 and those with health issues and special needs will not be asked to wear face coverings, the plan says. Parents of primary school students may request that their child wear a covering.
The district will provide one mask for every student. All face masks must be “school appropriate,” Graham said.
Teachers will have a choice of a clear mask or cloth mask.
Students may be able to remove masks for a time if social distancing can be maintained.
Transportation – The district will provide transportation for all students. Based on current ADH guidance, students in grades 4-12 will be required to wear face coverings when riding the bus. No changes are
planned to bus schedules or stops.
The first two seats on the bus will be left open, and drivers will try to maintain social distancing as much as possible, according to Director of Transportation, Facilities and Athletics James “Bunch” Nichols said. Windows will be down as long as weather permits.
Nichols said he communicates frequently with state transportation officials. He was told that “if a parent shows concern about a child riding the bus, the parents should take their kids to school.”
School day – The district’s goal is “for your student(s) to have as normal a day as possible while we also provide as much safety as possible. Students will not remain in the same classroom all day but will be able to transition from one class to another. Of course, sanitation will take place before a new group of students enter a space.”
Extra classes at elementary school – Students will continue to participate in activity classes, check out library books, and receive guidance and gifted instruction. In some cases, the teacher may present the lesson in the student’s classroom to reduce the amount of cleaning. In other situations, such as PE, students may have an assigned area in the gym with specific materials assigned to their classroom.”
Recess – Primary and elementary students will have outdoor play time with restrictions that limit the number of students they come in contact with.
Social distancing – Social distancing will be observed as much as possible, but at times students will be closer than the recommended six feet apart. “We will redesign classrooms and cafeteria spaces to increase the space between students but cannot always guarantee it will be six feet. Classrooms will be arranged to provide maximum spacing allowable between students. That might mean all desks are arranged in rows facing a single direction. It might result in reading areas with bean bags, couches or comfy chairs being removed.”
Schedule – The district plans for students to attend school daily “following a very similar schedule to the traditional school day.”
Positive Covid-19 test – “In the event an individual tests positive, we will follow the latest guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health. We will be in direct contact with ADH. This could result in the brief closure of a single school within the district to provide for additional cleaning and sanitation.”
Graham said ADH “gets the final call. It’s not a principal or Doug Graham decision. It’s our responsibility to get the right information to ADH.” The district will name a point of contact person to work with ADH.
Screenings – The district “will be equipped to screen daily,” Graham said, but ADH no longer lists daily temperature checks as a requirement. Students and adults should be sure they do not have any of the following symptoms before going to school, Graham said. 1. A fever of 100.4 degrees or higher in the last two days. 2. A cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell. 3. Contact with a person known to be infected with Covid-19 within the previous 14 days.
Options – The district will provide a total online educational program for students who do not feel comfortable returning to onsite instruction. “Students wishing to go virtual and stay at home must have internet access, the plan says. Virtual education for students in grades K-8 will be taught by Nashville School District teachers. They will use our state-aligned curriculum and supplement with Lincoln Learning, which is endorsed and provided free of charge by DESE. The number of virtual teachers will be dictated by enrollment. In the event we are sent home by the governor, the option will put our virtual students on an even playing field with those on campus for face-to-face instruction. Students in grades 9-12 will have access to the Virtual Arkansas program that employs its own teachers, so those courses will not be taught by Nashville Public School teachers.”
Parents will be asked to sign up for the virtual education program and commit to a minimum of a semester. The district is making appointments now for grades K-9; appointments to register for grades 10-12 may be made starting July 27.
The deadline to commit to the virtual education option is Aug. 3, Graham said.
“We won’t have a revolving; door. If you start in Virtual Arkansas, you’ll stay in Virtual Arkansas,” Graham said. “We will allow a one-time change during the semester.”
Students who choose to go full-time virtual will be able to participate in extra-curricular activities, including sports.
AP/concurrent classes for high school students must be taken on campus because of regulations from the University of Arkansas Cossatot which provides college credit for the classes. Teachers must meet UA qualifications.
Open house/meet the teacher – They will not be offered under state guidelines.
Lunch – ADH is recommending cafeterias limit the number of students. “WE anticipate this may mean will be required to adjust lunch schedules or use alternative areas such as large gathering spaces or potentially have lunch in their classroom on a very limited basis. Proper sanitation of all areas will be completed after each meal. Procedures will not allow students to pick up utensils, self-serve or share food. Parents are encouraged to send a water bottle with their students since water fountains will not be allowed.”
Graham said the district will “feed as many as we can in the cafeteria. The cafeteria will be prepared to deliver two hot meals to every classroom on campus” if necessary.
Cleaning and sanitizing – Sanitation and cleanliness “will be a high priority for our district as we return in the fall. We will have staff to clean high touch surfaces [such as] door knobs, light switches, etc, and restrooms on a continuous basis throughout the day. We have also purchased disinfectant sprays to quickly sanitize rooms between usage. We will also provide time for hand washing and hand sanitizer throughout our campuses.” The district will add money to the budget for cleaning after hours.
School closures – If schools close again, a plan for at-home digital learning has been developed. It includes grades K-2 using SeeSaw and grades 3-12 using Google Classroom to submit assignments. Teachers will utilize videos to deliver lessons. Students will learn how to use these learning management systems by participating in lessons throughout the week while at school. “Blended learning that includes both on-site traditional instruction and digital instruction will become the norm. This approach will allow students who might be ill or quarantined for a limited amount of time to continue their education even if they are not physically present in the classroom. Students who have chosen stay-at-home virtual learning will continue with that platform.”
In response to questions, Nichols said the district “has ordered a lot of sanitizer. We will go through classrooms and clean top to bottom. I want parents to know that school will be a clean place. We’ll wipe doors and disinfect every classroom and every bus. The custodial staff will stay as long as needed after school. We want to be sure that teachers and kids have a safe place to be. We’ll make sure it’s clean.”
The district has ordered 1,100 additional Chromebooks. On-campus distribution will depend on grade level. Students who go virtual will receive a Chromebook. Home schooled students will not, Graham said.
In case a teacher tests positive, the Department of Health will decide what to do, according to Graham.
The district is looking at ways to provide internet access to students who do not have it at home, Graham said. “If we’re shut down, students and parents will be allowed to come inside the building to use the internet.”