OSAWATOMIE — Osawatomie USD 367 will begin the school year on Thursday, Aug. 20 — a week later than originally scheduled.
During a special meeting Wednesday, July 29, the school board voted to approve the school calendar for the 2020-2021 year which includes an Aug. 20 start date and a May 25 end date. The calendar has a number of days built into the schedule that typically are used as snow days which would not have to be made up.
Superintendent Justin Burchett said some of the built-in days could serve a different purpose this year if the district had a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Those days could be a combination of snow days and possible COVID days — we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Burchett told the school board.
Burchett and Susan Gorman, director of school improvement, discussed a draft of the district’s reopening plan with the school board.
The board and those attending the meeting also heard a report from Dr. Jeff Dorsett, a school board member and family physician, about his COVID-19 research, which also outlined risk factors and how those relate to the local community and school district. Dorsett said he’s hopeful the district’s decisions on how to best reopen its doors during the pandemic will be based on science and sound safety guidelines (see related article).
Burchett said the current draft plan is a living document that will undergo changes in the coming days. The superintendent said he would ask the board to approve the reopening plan at its Aug. 10 regular meeting.
“So we have time to listen, time to get feedback, time to make adjustments,” Burchett said.
The school district has placed links to the draft plan and a survey to gather feedback from families on its website and Facebook page.
Students will be given the option to choose in-school instruction or home-based learning.
The school board reached consensus that students who choose the home-based learning option will still be eligible to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Burchett and the board spent a good deal of time discussing mask requirements set out in the governor’s executive order and in the city of Osawatomie’s mask ordinance.
As it stands, the district’s current policy will be to require all students and staff to wear masks. That’s subject to change, depending on if the governor’s executive order is overturned or is successfully challenged in court, Burchett said.
Though masks will be required, a few exceptions include medical and mental health conditions and when it hinders the ability to perform a job or another necessary task.
The superintendent said there might be some situations, such as a speech pathology session, when the student will not be wearing a mask.
“Plexiglass shields will be set between a teacher and a student when the student is unmasked,” he said.
Burchett gave an example of when band members are playing their instruments they will not be required to wear masks.
“It’s pretty hard to play a tuba with a mask on,” Burchett said.
But during periods when band students are receiving instruction the expectation will be that their masks are on.
He also provided an example of what sports might look like, depending on how the guidelines are set forth by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
During a volleyball match, coaches and officials could be masked and players who are sitting on the bench would be masked and maintaining social distance as one possibility.
“When the player goes into the game, they will be able to take their mask off,” Burchett said.
Burchett said the district will do its best to maintain social distancing in the classrooms. The district plans to maintain its current in-town and rural bus routes, but he said social distancing on buses will not be possible. He said the district can take steps to minimize risk, such as loading procedures, assigned seating, siblings sitting together and other measures to keep interaction between students at a minimum.
While students and bus aides will be wearing masks, the board did not reach a consensus about the mask protocol for bus drivers.
Burchett also talked about keeping elementary students in isolated groups — such as students in a first-grade classroom being kept in their cohort group throughout the day.
Board member Ben Wendt asked about interaction in the lunch room.
“How many kids will be in the lunch room eating, obviously without masks, and how far apart will they be?” Wendt asked.
Burchett said the district’s plan is that no kids will be eating in the lunch room.
“That group of first-graders (from the previous example), those 20 kids will be kept in their cohort group so they will eat together in that classroom, with meals delivered to them,” Burchett said. “High school and middle school students will go in small groups to pick up their lunch and take it back to eat in their classroom.
“Unmasked times are the most dangerous times, not only for personal health but also for risk of quarantine, and quarantines could then snowball into building closures or district closures,” he said.
Burchett said the primary goal of the reopening plan is to keep buildings open, which in turn means keeping everyone healthy.
Gorman talked about the district implementing a logging system to tract movement in the building to make contact tracing easier for the county health department in the event a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
She said the health department does not plan to close a school building unless two or more positive cases occurred in a building and contact tracing was not possible. She emphasized that’s why keeping good log books will be important.
She said if a building has to be closed because of a COVID-19 outbreak then the county health department — not the school district — will determine the length of the closure. During a building or districtwide closure, all extra-curricular activities will cease until the reopening.
Board members and Burchett also talked about hand-sanitizing stations and protocols, as well as checking the temperatures of all students and staff when entering the building for the first time each day. Home-based students who participate in extracurricular activities would have to undergo the same safety protocols as in-school students, including wearing masks when required.
The district plans to use infrared, no-touch thermometers to conduct the initial screening, and if a student has a temperature above 100.4 degrees, a school nurse will then take the student’s temperature with an oral thermometer to get a more precise reading. Handheld thermometers also will be available in each classroom if a student becomes ill during the day.
Burchett said he is trying to hire an additional school nurse because he wants a health professional to be determining if a student is suffering from a cold, allergies or has COVID-19 systems.
The superintendent said the health professional would determine if the student needs to leave the school. Burchett said he doesn’t want a teacher or another staff member making those decisions.
Also, he emphasized school personnel will not ask a parent to have their child tested for COVID-19. Instead, the nurse may recommend to a parent that the child be examined by their healthcare provider who would make the determination about COVID-19 testing.
“We will not make that determination,” Burchett said. “That’s not our role.”
If it’s determined that a child needs to be sent home, the parents will be called and the child will be escorted out to a family member, rather than the family coming inside the building.
Burchett said the district’s enrollment is about 40 percent complete, and in a lot of the buildings about 8 percent of the students are enrolled in the alternative home-based learning option.
Gorman told the board the curriculum and requirements for home-based learning, in accordance with state guidelines, will be much more rigorous than the makeshift remote learning system school districts had to implement last spring.
“Some families will feel it’s not best for their kids to come to school right now,” Gorman said. “We want to make sure we provide an option for them that will be as close as possible to the in-school experience.”
Though the district’s preferred option is in-school instruction, home-based learning is available for all K-12 students, Gorman said.
“We want these kids to still feel as connected as possible to their school, to their classroom, and to a teacher because we know these kids will be eventually transitioning back to school,” Gorman said.
In order to receive state funding for each home-based student, the state is requiring that students must complete six hours of school work each day, Gorman said.
Home-based students must complete the same number of hours as students who are attending schools, she said.
“In order for us to receive funding, they need to keep a daily log,” she said.
Gorman said the district is trying to set up the logs electronically to make it as easy on students as possible. Also, she said students must have daily contact with a teacher. Home-based students are expected to complete the same assignments and take the same tests as students attending school.
Video conferencing will be used to provide home-based students with the same instruction as an in-school student.
“As our teachers are teaching, our home-based students will log in and listen to the same instruction as students who are in school,” she said.
Board member Dorsett asked if students would be able to go back and forth between home-based and in-school instruction.
“Some school districts have said that if a student is going to be home-based, they have to stay that way for a semester. We are not going to say that,” Gorman said. “We would like for students to be able to come back to school whenever their family decides either a certain situation has resolved itself or they now feel comfortable with their students coming back.
“We ask that if a student returns, then they remain an in-school student for the rest of the semester,” Gorman said. “If an in-school student decides they want to become home-based, we ask that they stay home-based for the rest of the semester.”
Gorman said the district realizes there will be circumstances that require changes during the semester.
“Individual situations will have to be addressed, but we would like for them not to be coming back and forth,” she said.
Burchett was asked about who would be providing the masks. He said the district will have masks available but the expectation is that the families would be providing the masks.
“Our hope is that masks are now on their back-to-school shopping list,” Burchett said. “Crayons, paper and make sure you have a mask.”