By SAMANTHA PIDDE
West Carroll School Board members last week approved a hybrid plan format for returning to school this fall for the 2020-21 school year and also discussed policies and procedures for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the Wednesday, July 15, online webinar meeting, Supt. Julie Katzenberger explained the district's reopening plan, which she said was approved by Craig Beintema, director of the Carroll County Health Department. She said the plan should "allow for a safe return" for West Carroll students and staff.
Katzenberger said the hybrid plan was developed after the district sent out three surveys — one for staff, students, parents — on how best to proceed this fall. A total of 387 responses were received and Katzenberger said approximately half wanted five days of in-person instruction and half wanted to see more of a choice.
"So that's why we came up with a hybrid start for the first month to see how things progress,” Katzenberger said.
Under the hybrid plan, students will receive three days of remote learning instruction and two days of in-person instruction. All students will participate in remote learning on Mondays. For the rest of the week, students will be placed in an A group and a B group.
The A group will consist of students living in the village of Thomson and the city of Mount Carroll, as well as some rural students. Group B will be made up of students living in the city of Savanna, as well as some rural students.
In-person instruction will be Tuesdays and Thursdays for Group A and Wednesdays and Fridays for Group B. All students from pre-K to 12th grade will receive a Chromebook to allow for e-learning.
Board member Bev Kilpartick asked why Monday is an e-learning day for all students. Katzenberger said that within the first month of school, two Mondays are No School Days — the first due to beginning school on a Wednesday and the second due to Labor Day.
Kilpatrick also asked why each group is not having in-person learning two days in a row. Katzenberger said that would mean students would be "off" for five days in a row, saying they felt the "staggered approach would be best.”
For the first month of school, Aug. 19-Sept. 18, students will be having shorter days, only attending from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Katzenberger said the shorter days and the staggered format will hopefully allow students to become better acclimated with the Covid-19 safety protocols, such as wearing face masks, temperature checks and social distancing. She added that the shorter school day also will benefit teachers and custodial staff.
"Our first priority will always be the health and safety of our students and staff," Katzenberger said.
Katzenberger highlighted some of the health and safety plans for the return to school (during a presentation of the Wellness Committee Notes and the Pre-K-12 Learning Council Notes). The committee consists of the two district nurses, three head custodians and the director of food services. Katzenberger noted that per the request of the two current nurses, the district will be hiring a third nurse so there is one for each building.
Katzenberger outlined temperature checks for this fall, explaining the nurses are satisfied with allowing "self certification" for buses. This means parents will be in charge of taking children's temperatures before putting them on the bus. However, once students arrive at school, they will all be required to go through a temperature kiosk.
The temperature kiosk will check that each person is wearing a mask and will take the wrist temperature of each person. Individuals receiving a "green" or normal temperature will be allowed to move on. Anyone registering a "red" or abnormal (high) temperature will be escorted by the person manning the kiosk to the nurse's office for reassessment. Katezenberger said each building with have two separate nurse spaces — one to handle injuries and one to handle anyone who may be symptomatic.
Board member Nicole Thulen asked what the policy would be if a student came to school with a fever or other symptoms. She inquired how the district will address the possible contamination of any students who rode the bus with that student. Katzenberger said there will be assigned seating on the buses, allowing staff to know who a possibly infected student was near. She added that as long as students stay in their assigned seats and wear masks, as required, they should be all right.
Katzenberger said that if someone in the district tests positive, West Carroll will follow health department guidelines.
After the first month of school, the district will be returning the school day to its normal length. Katzenberger said at that time the district will evaluate whether to continue with a hybrid plan or switch to five days of in-person instruction.
While the district is adopting a hybrid plan, parents wanting to keep students home may contact the school district to arrange for a completely remote learning format. Katzenberger said they are asking parents who chose remote learning to do so for an entire quarter at a time.
Thulen also voiced concerns about how extracurricular activities will be managed and the possibility of members of both groups (A and B) mingling and contaminating the entire group. The board was assured athletes are not allowed any contact with each other and must wear masks during indoor practices.
The board approved purchasing laptops and Chromebooks, which will be paid through an ESSA grant.
In other business at its July 15 meeting, the West Carroll School Board:
•Appointed Stephanie Moore of Savanna to the District 5 position on the school board, replacing Shay Bradbury who recently resigned because he is moving from the district
"Mrs. Moore brings a clear understanding of the demands and expectations of being a Board member along with a constructive attitude towards this challenge," West Carroll said in a statement.
•Hired Wendy Erbsen as WCHS science teacher for the 2020-21 school year, pending a background check.
•Recalled Brenda Gable to a WCMS three-hour assistant cook position for the 2020-21 school year.
•Approved a request for a leave of absence for Danyelle Robinson, starting Aug. 27.
•Approved a memorandum of agreement between the school board and the West Carroll Education Association to create an official appeals process for staff receiving unsatisfactory evaluations. With the policy, staff receiving the unsatisfactory rating will have five work days to begin the appeals process and will go in front of evaluators who had not originally evaluated them.
•Heard that the Career Tech Education Academy in Elizabeth, where West Carroll sends students, received a $500,000 grant.
•Heard that the Right Steps office had moved from the West Carroll district office to the Chadwick school building.
•Tabled a vote on seal coat bids in order to update the bid specifications to include extra patchwork at the WCHS parking lot.