PAOLA — Paola USD 368 Board of Education members, during a special meeting Monday, July 27, approved a reopening plan and calendar that will delay the start of the school year until Wednesday, Aug. 19.
The first day of school was originally planned for Wednesday, Aug. 12, but Superintendent Matt Meek said the week-long delay will give staff time to plan accordingly so the school buildings can safely reopen for teachers and students.
It also allows for minimal impact to the school calendar, he said, although staff development days will be moved to before school starts. The last day of school will still be May 20.
What the school year will look like is mapped out in the district’s reopening plan, which the school board members spent a majority of their three-hour meeting discussing.
The plan includes three main formats of schooling: Onsite learning, remote learning and hybrid learning.
Students enrolled in onsite learning will be taught in person at each school building with necessary safety precautions. Masks will be required for all teachers and students. There are some exceptions, including while someone is eating or if they have a medical condition.
Parents will also have the option to enroll their children in remote learning. Students will be assigned a teacher, just as if they were attending in person, however they will complete their work at home. Depending on the number of students signed up for remote learning, students may be grouped by grade level or class or grade band, such as K-2.
Meek said it would not be the same as the continuous learning that took place in the spring. Remote learning students would be required to participate in the same amount of time as their in-person classmates, and students would be required to log their time daily and submit the log signed by both the student and a parent each week.
Students enrolled in remote learning must remain in the program throughout the fall 2020 semester, and they may not participate in school activities or athletics. Meek said the reasoning behind that is that allowing them to participate would defeat the purpose of keeping them out of the classroom to limit their exposure.
The district’s reopening plan states that parents would need to enroll students in remote learning by Aug. 7, but Meek said he would prefer to have those notices by Aug. 5 for planning purposes.
Hybrid learning would be a combination of both formats, with students likely alternating days between in-person and remote learning. Meek said hybrid learning would likely result if local COVID-19 cases increased to the point that the Miami County Health Department asked the school district to reduce the number of students in each building.
If there is another statewide school shutdown, Meek said the district would transition all students to remote learning.
Another option for students in grades 6-12 is virtual learning, which is offered through the virtual school program at the Paola Adult Education Center.
The school district recently surveyed parents and teachers, asking for their opinions about the different options. Meek reviewed the survey results during the meeting.
A majority of the parents (59.8 percent) favored onsite learning, with hybrid learning coming in second at 26 percent and remote learning third.
Teachers also favored onsite and hybrid learning options over remote learning.
In total, 575 parents and 97 staff members preferred onsite learning; 249 parents and 78 staff members preferred hybrid learning; and 97 parents and 20 staff members preferred remote learning.
Most parents (43.5 percent) said “yes” they’d feel more comfortable if staff members wore a mask or face shields, with 34.6 percent saying “no” and 21.9 percent undecided.
But a majority of the parents (42.5 percent) said “no” when the same question was asked regarding students wearing masks. A total of 34.9 percent said “yes” and 22.6 percent were undecided.
A majority of the staff members (54.8 percent) said they’d be more comfortable if students were required to wear masks.
Paola USD 368’s plan includes a variety of safety measures, including providing hand sanitizer in all classrooms throughout the building and social distancing whenever possible. At Cottonwood, where some classrooms have tables instead of desks, Meek said plastic protective barriers may be installed.
One of the biggest changes in routines will be the requirement to check the temperature of all individuals entering the school buildings. Those with a temperature of 100.4 or greater will not be allowed to enter.
Meek said using handheld thermometers for that process could be extremely time consuming so he recommended the purchase of thermal cameras that can scan the temperature of groups of people entering a confined area and can take photos and alert administrators if a temperature is higher than a set number. Meek said anyone who is flagged would then be scanned again with a handheld device to be sure the reading is accurate.
Meek said thermal cameras will be installed at all of the school buildings, and tablets will be installed at the bus barn, central office and Paola Adult Education Center.
The school board members approved the purchase of the thermal cameras for $148,898, with board member Scott Golubski voting “no” after questioning the high price.
The approved reopening plan also talks about transportation. Drivers and students riding the bus will be required to wear face coverings while on the bus. Drivers will assign seats to properly distance riders when able and family members will be required to sit together to help with social distancing. When able, the bus will be filled back to front and unloaded front to back. Hand sanitizer will be provided for students as they get on and off the bus.
Golubski said he realizes the reopening plan will not please everyone, but he encouraged all district staff members to get behind it.
“Everybody who works in those buildings need to get on the same page and support it,” he said.