At their July 21 meeting, district officials updated school board members and took questions on the district’s plans to return to school during the coronavirus pandemic.
The important thing, Superintendent Larry Hunt said, was to let Jones County Public Health drive the decisions that the district makes.
“Jones County Public Health is going to drive the majority of the decisions we make, and we just have to understand that,” he said. “We right away, when we started having our meetings, we started having public health sit in on our meetings.”
Public health officials have walked through the various buildings and talked through plans for things like transportation in the district. The administrators said Jones County Public Health officials had been extremely responsive whenever questions have come up.
When it came to scheduling, given the “high-risk” population in the district, Hunt said it was important as plans were developed to try to see kids everyday after not having kids in the building for months.
“We were feeding 600 kids a day. We know there’s a food issue in our community. So, we feel like by seeing the kids every day, we’re going to make sure they get lunch at least and hopefully breakfast,” Hunt said.
How each building would work varies.
At the high school, the plan is for kids to be split up in morning and afternoon shifts. Principal Erin Thompson said they started by splitting kids up by the alphabet and then made adjustments based on activities, kids with siblings and Kirkwood classes. The way things worked out, it allowed class sizes to be shrunk to 10 to 15 students per room. Teachers will teach each class twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon.
Face masks will be required in common areas. In between shifts, there is time for structured cleaning since kids cannot stay in the same room.
At the middle school, fifth and sixth graders will attend at school in the morning, seventh and eighth in the afternoon. The reasoning for that was that there are no school district run activities for those grades after school. During the day, the teachers, not the students, will rotate between classes. Class sizes will be about 15.
Neither the middle school nor the high school will be using lockers.
At the elementary, students will be brought back but will be self-contained within classrooms. Preschool through first grade will be able to enter their classrooms from their own doors. Second through fourth grade will enter the building spaced out, and the computer lab and library will be used as classrooms for the year, as they have outside entrances. Kids will go out for recess one class as a time, hand sanitizing on the way out and the way back in. Specials, like music and art, will come to the classroom, while physical education classes will look more like a “structured recess.” Lunch will also be brought to the classroom.
As with everything, the situation is fluid and directives are subject to change. One change is masks will likely be required when social distancing is not possible. Though social distancing may be possible in classrooms, masks will likely be required on buses and in the hallways.
In addition to students, making sure that the staff felt safe and comfortable was of importance to the district.
“Our staff is a precious commodity…We just can’t go get anybody off the street and say, ‘Hey, come teach math for us,’” Hunt said. “We’re not just looking out for our kids. If we can’t keep our teachers in our classrooms, we’re in trouble.”
Bus drivers, too, Hunt noted, also required special licenses to be able to do their job. Staff and students that feel uncomfortable in the building will be dealt with on a case by case basis.
Throughout the buildings, there will be increased cleaning, and buses would be sprayed down between routes. Encouraging hand washing among students will also be a priority for students.
Results of the survey sent out to district families was also discussed, and the results, along with frequently asked questions, can be found at the district’s website.
The district is still working on their transportation plan.
Board members expressed their thanks for the work district officials had done so far to prepare for the upcoming school year.