RIVER FALLS — School Board on Monday night discussed options for K-12 students returning to classrooms in the fall, learning from home or some combination of the two.
The “Wildcat Roadmap to Reentry” presented July 20 by Superintendent Jamie Benson doesn’t conclude which learning environment will be in effect when school starts Sept. 1. That decision will be based on local COVID-19 conditions and guidance from health officials.
Instead, the document is a “playbook” to help the district quickly respond to pandemic-related interruptions while ensuring students, families and staff are supported, according to the meeting agenda.
Though some decisions may draw criticism, the district’s top priority is safety, Benson said. To that end, the district will attempt to balance public opinion, guidance from experts and potential negative consequences of students being away from school.
“This is not a win-win,” Benson said. “We’re attempting to make the best of a situation that none of us desire.”
The roadmap also is a living document, subject to change throughout the upcoming school year.
“Everything — absolutely everything — in this extensive plan for fall can change,” School Board President Stacy Johnson Myers said.
The board will continue to meet Mondays to discuss reopening schools, with a decision coming no later than Aug. 10, Johnson Myers said.
A district task force concluded in-person instruction was the best choice for students socially, emotionally and academically, though an online option would still be needed to accommodate COVID-19 concerns and medical restrictions.
Local parents also favor classroom instruction if schools reopen, according to a recent district survey. Of 1,546 survey participants, 88.6% said their children would attend in-person classroom instruction while 11.4% said their children are interested in attending school online if offered.
Community interest in the district's decision is high, board members said. So much so, the meeting was paused Monday after the Zoom stream reached its viewer capacity and the district had to start an alternate stream on Facebook.
Here are some of the proposed changes to district operations as outlined in the roadmap:
1. Masks and distancing
Students and staff will be expected to wear masks if they are within six feet of others. Students will be provided at least one cloth mask and receive instruction on proper technique. Disposable masks will be available if a student forgets their mask at home.
The focus will be to educate students about perseverance and the importance of masks, and not doling out punishment to students for breaking the rules, Benson said.
Additionally, elementary students will be expected to stay with their classroom cohort throughout the day, while secondary students will have staggered passing times and limited locker access. Students will be allowed to bring backpacks into the classroom.
2. Building changes
The roadmap calls for transparent barriers to be installed in the main offices and other high traffic areas, as well as a beefed up cleaning schedule. Drinking fountain use will be limited to filling water bottles.
If students come down with COVID-19 symptoms, they will wait for their parents in a staffed isolation room separate from the health office.
3. More staffing
The district anticipates staffing shortages due to COVID-19, according to the roadmap. The plan calls for new hires such as e-school instructors, substitutes, health aides and custodial support.
School Board on Monday approved an updated staffing plan with potential reassignments and additions.
4. Bus routes and capacity
The district plans to run buses under capacity to allow students to keep their distance onboard. Students will be required to wear masks on the bus, and siblings will be asked to sit together. Buses will undergo extra cleaning each day.
To reduce bus ridership, the district is considering expanding the radius of walking zones and, in the case of Westside Elementary, add an asphalt walking path through the Westside field.
5. Staggered lunches
All schools will see changes to food service, including staggered lunch schedules, simpler menus, disposable utensils and extended service times. For elementary schools, lunch service could be extended by as much as 30 minutes. Additional rooms will also be used to create a larger dining area to accommodate distancing.