As the upcoming school year approaches, school districts are considering what they can, should, must and mustn’t do to adapt to the post-COVID-19 reality.
Greene County Tech Superintendent Gene Weeks said he anticipated a need to have several plans ready to implement, based on guidance that could be forthcoming from the state Department of Education. But one feature he expects to be a part of all contingencies is expanded use of online learning. “One thing we will need to do is to get better online,” Weeks said. “We did get better, but we will need to continue our improvements.”
Another aspect of future planning, Weeks said, is the emplacement of safety measures to protect both students and staff from any lingering threat from COVID-19. “We will have PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff and older students,” he said. “And we are also looking at social distancing in the schools.”
Weeks said the district would “get busy” over the summer drawing up its contingency plans. “But we are not alone,” he said. “Everyone will be together.”
Weeks also noted the state Department of Education would have a “playbook,” a working document of expectations for the districts. “And we will be working with the department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control.”
Weeks also said the feeding of Tech students will continue as previously announced through the end of June. “We’ll take it one month at a time,” he said.
Greene County Tech Primary School, at 1300 S. Rockingchair Road, will serve breakfasts from 8 a.m.-8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 to noon, Monday through Friday for students aged 18 and younger. As before, students must be present to receive the meals.
Paragould School District Superintendent Debbie Smith said her district is likewise anticipating guidance, from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
“But we are also going forward with an Aug. 13 re-entry date,” she said.
Smith added that plans the district draws up will doubtless see adjustment in accordance with guidance from DESE. “That way we won’t have to start from scratch,” she said.
The district is currently evaluating instructional implementation that has taken place since March 16, the first day of the school closure, to determine what adjustments may be required for the fall. “As a district, we are fully capable of providing virtual instruction,” Smith said, “due to having a Chromebook for each student.”
A Chromebook is a type of personal computer, based on the Linux operating system, that uses the Google Chrome Internet browser, with data and applications being in the Internet Cloud instead of the individual machine.
Smith also said the district has been ordering supplies of PPE to ensure the safety of students and staff. Supplies ordered include gloves, masks, disinfectant diffuser devices, hand sanitizer, and thermometers. She indicated other supplies may be procured as the situation appears to dictate.
“We are also completing normal operating tasks such as summer projects,” Smith said. Such projects across the district include refurbishing a gymnasium floor, painting various rooms and areas, and repairing and sealing parking lots. In addition to general maintenance and repair projects, the stripping and waxing of floors are also to be finished over the summer.
Smith also said construction on the new agriculture, Junior ROTC, and band buildings is progressing. The agriculture building’s concrete floor has been poured, the Junior ROTC footings have been poured, and the band building will soon have its footings prepared.
Like Tech, the Paragould School District will continue its student feeding program. “We will transition to the summer feeding program on June 1,” Smith said. The district will distribute breakfasts and lunches each morning Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. at the Oak Grove Middle School front parking lot and the Paragould Junior High front parking lot. Children must be present to receive the meals. The dates of the program are June 1-26 and July 6-31.
Marmaduke School District Superintendent Keith Richey said that, like Paragould and Greene County Tech, his district will be taking its cue from guidance expected from the state Department of Education. “They are calling it a ‘playbook,’” Richey said, “and when they issue it, we’ll use it.”
He said the district is looking at Aug. 13 to resume classes. “We don’t know yet whether we’ll be using masks or not,” the superintendent said.
Against that likelihood, the Marmaduke School District is laying in supplies of masks, disinfectant, touchless thermometers and personal PPE. “We’re also getting some portable disinfectant ‘misters’,” Richey said, “and we have stepped up our protocols to keep the schools safe.” He added one person would be dedicated to wipe down doorknobs, handles and other areas likely to be touched by numbers of students, using Clorox wipes.
Although the school year ended May 20, Richey said the district will continue to feed its students. “We’ll switch to summer feeding,” he said, “and we’ll still do the ‘grab-and-go.’”
Locations and times will be as before: from 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday in the school lobby and at Lafe City Park.
The district will also have a WiFi “hot spot” to permit students in the school parking lot to take advantage of learning without the need to enter the building. “And we are working on getting laptops for each of our students,” Richey said. “So when Aug. 13 comes, we’ll be ready.”