Learning behind a mask: Director of Schools releases plans for school reopenings

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The following is Chester County Director of Schools Troy Kilzer II’s message to Chester County stakeholders about how schools will reopen.
Since the last message I provided stakeholders regarding the initial reopening plan, am eager to share with our school families more details regarding the start of the 2020-21 school year.
As I shared with the previous message, we know that the best education for our students is where our educators and staff can deliver instruction to students onsite and in-person. The relationships that are developed and nurtured by staff with students are beneficial and lasting. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocated that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” It is encouraging that our plan for reopening the schools in August is supported by this medical professional association. Our priorities with the reopening of Chester County Schools are the safety and well-being of our students and staff. When students and families realize that the schools are safe to learn and grow, then we will include the priority of educational opportunities where all students can learn at high levels.
Health Screening Checks of students prior to the arrival at school – Families of students are expected to assess their children’s wellness before arriving at school. If a student has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or other symptoms of sickness, the student should remain home or seek medical attention. As in previous school years, the student’s family will be required to contact the school office staff to inform them of the student’s current condition and reason for not attending school. When the ill student is treated by a physician, a medical note or narrative should be provided to the school office staff for student attendance record.
The wearing of face coverings by staff and specific student groups – To mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, students in grades sixth-eighth (CCJHS) and ninth-12th (CCHS) will be required to wear masks during the school day when social distancing with other individuals (students and/or staff is impossible. Social distancing at CCJHS and CCHS IS difficult to achieve during classroom settings, transition times between classes, and district provided transportation to and from schools.
Students in grades Prek-third (ECES, JCES and WCES) and fourth-fifth (CCMS) are encouraged to wear masks, but not required, during the school day when social distancing with other individuals (students and/or staff) is impossible. Classroom settings at these grades will be adjusted to diminish the transition times during the school day. These grade level students will be strongly encouraged to wear face masks when being transported to and from school by school buses.
This new commitment of wearing face coverings by all staff and specific student groups is only for the safety of all. As the conditions of pandemic improve and lower cases are occurring, this requirement may be removed. The staff will educate students who wear masks to do so properly by covering the nose and mouth.
There shall be no requirement that a face mask be worn under the following conditions:
By a student who has documentation of trouble breathing due to an underlying health condition or another bona fide medical or health-related reason for not wearing a face covering; while eating or drinking; while outdoors, unless the student cannot maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside of the person’s household; during school activities where appropriate social distancing from others outside of the student’s household is substantially maintained; in situations in which wearing a face covering poses a safety or security risk.
Health Screening Checks of students and staff prior to the start of the school day – Students and staff will be habitually screened based on either responses to the screening questions of “The Tennessee Pledge,” or depending on the age of the children, use of available medical tools to determine sickness. If a student or staff answers “yes” to any of the screening questions, the student or staff may be expected to leave the school to go home or seek medical attention.
The screening questions asked are as follows: Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19? Are you currently experiencing a chill, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat? Do you currently have fever (100.4° or greater) in the last 48 hours? Do you have a new loss of taste or smell? Have you had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
Health Screening Checks of students during the school day- Students who are initially suspected of being sick due to temperature testing or other apparent symptoms will be moved to a designated, isolated location. The family will be contacted regarding the possible sickness of the child, and a second temperature check will be administered by another person (school nurse or other staff available) to confirm or reject the initial temperature reading. If the second check of illness is consistent with the initial check, the family of the student will be contacted to transport the student home or seek medical attention.
Best practices for hygiene of all during the school day – School staff will teach all students through direct instruction and modeling better hygiene practices. The health guidelines are as follows: Wash hands for at least 20 seconds. If soap is not available, use available hand sanitizer. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces often during the school day. Personally avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth. Cover coughs and sneezes with tissue or the crook of the elbow. Wash or disinfect hands after. Stay home or seek medical attention if you are sick or experiencing symptoms included in the screening document. Avoid others when sick.
Signs including these guidelines will be strategically placed throughout the school buildings and support the instruction of our students concerning better hygiene practices. A large number of hand sanitizer stations will be positioned visibly in multiple visible locations in each school campus. Hand sanitizer supplies (may include liquids, wipes, etc.) will be purchased and available at each classroom and other student/staff locations. The custodians will continue to work to properly clean and disinfect all school locations daily. The staff and students will also do their parts to support the cleanliness of the schools for the health and safety of everyone. All will be taught by instruction and modeling of these guidelines of better hygiene practices to reduce the spread of germs.
Bus transportation to and from schools available every school day – Our plan is to provide transportation as normal. All buses will be disinfected after each route. Drivers and riders are expected to wear face coverings during the routes to and from school. As in previous school years, student’s families will be able to make the decision if they would like their child to ride the bus or bring their child to school. The safe travel of students to and from school to home IS the highest priority for our transportation services.
Open House Events at Schools scheduled prior to opening – Each school will be hosting prior to the start of the school year opportunities for students and families to meet their student’s teacher(s) and take tours through the campuses either by virtual online methods of viewing or by appointments made to reduce the number of visitors at the specific campuses to permit acceptable capacities. More specific information of dates, times and preferred methods of family visits will be shared by the school staff. School staff agree that students should feel comfortable in the school settings and be acclimated to how the classroom, hallways, gymnasiums, cafeterias and other school building locations will be available.
Schedules for first Orientation day and first full school day – On Monday, August 3rd, students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade along with 6th grade students at Chester County Junior High and 9th grade students at Chester County High School will report to their zoned schools for a partial orientation day starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 11 a.m. School bus transportation will be available the first orientation day. On Tuesday, August 4, all grade level students will report to their schools for the first full day of school. School meals will be available starting on Tuesday.
Adjustments to the Chester County Food Service Program – the school program includes a free breakfast to all students and free or reduced priced lunch for those students who qualify. To ensure that all meal items can be served in a safe manner to comply with current health recommendations, there will be changes in the serving and selecting food and drink choices. The food and drink items available will meet all nutritional requirements to ensure well balanced diets for our students and staff. Also the location of where meals are consumed may vary to ensure that no one school area has too many students to permit adequate social distancing. Decisions of how, when, and where student meals will be served and consumed will be made by the school administrators.
Adjustments to the practice of physical meetings at schools during school days – To better maintain improved social distancing in our building facilities for students and staff, family attendance for special events, meetings, and other common events will be restricted. Family members will be expected to transfer their student to the staff at the school door at the start of the day and receive their student in the same way at the end of the day. Parents and family members will not be permitted into the school buildings without prior scheduling and approval with school administrators. Unplanned and unscheduled meetings with student’s families and staff will be restricted. The school staff will continue to host required meetings for students and families during the school year. Families may request a teacher or principal meeting by scheduling at least one (1) school day before the event and may occur physically, virtually, electronically, or by phone. Meetings that campuses will require health screenings and face coverings for the safety occur on of all present.
Learning opportunities for all students every day – Chester County Schools staff have been working hard through the spring and summer to prepare for the best learning opportunities for all students. All subjects and courses that have been taught in the past will continue with continued emphasis on math and literacy with some adjustment as needed to accommodate better social distancing among students and staff. Our students are exceptional and will quickly demonstrate progress in their learning as educators and staff identify areas of need with student learning and provide quality instruction and practice. Our staff are exceptional and diligent to meet students where they are in their learning path and move all to greater gains.
Accommodations for learning opportunities for students who are unable to return to school for medical reasons – During this school year, there will be times when students are unable to be at school because of medical reasons. As our school district had experienced the full shutdown of school attendance since last March last school year, our planning is not to repeat that same practice again this school year. Our students and staff benefit with the continuation of learning and growing with significant social interactions. If a student is not permitted to return to school within a short period of days due to medical reasons, distance learning will be available. The school district staff will consider available resources from home for the student who needs distance learning which may include providing the student with technology equipment to support learning from home. To restate as earlier stated, the best education for our students is where our educators and staff can deliver instruction to students onsite and in-person. The relationships that are developed and nurtured by staff with students are beneficial and lasting. Distance learning from home will be only available to those who for medical reasons require it. All instructional services will be available to all students whether onsite at the physical school settings or at home.
Closing comments – In closing, pray that this document provides each family with morel detailed information of how the start of the school year will begin and new practices that may become consistent routines throughout the school year. As in our school district have shared, we are ready to get this 2020-21 many staff school year started and look forward to the opportunity and privilege to educate every child entering this school year. It has truly been challenging time for all over the last four months. Please know that the best interest of all children drives every decision that is made by school district staff and leadership. We truly understand the hardship it causes on so many parents when our schools are closed we are always mindful of that in our decision making Please keep in mind that and this plan is subject to change on any given day as we continue to receive guidance from the state and local health officials. We ask that every family be patient and graceful with school district staff as we all together navigate through these uncertain paths with new practices for the start of this school year. Now more than ever, we need to work together, support one another, and cooperate in order to create the best opportunities for success for our children. If you have any concerns or suggestions that would benefit our plans for the 2020-21 school year, I would appreciate the feedback. Please contact the Chester County Board of Education office at (731) 989-5134 during regular business hours or use my email, Troy.Kilzer@chestercountyschools.org. I learned many years ago that we all learn with and through others.
Be confident that our staff is committed to the safety and wellbeing of our children and all students will learn. It is truly a privilege and honor for me to serve Chester County in this role.
I am grateful and humbled with the support that the community has already demonstrated to our staff and me personally. Chester County truly is a great place to live and learn. Go BIG BLUE!!