GALLIPOLIS — As fall creeps closer, Gallipolis City Schools prepares for a school year shaped by ever-changing circumstances.
“Our reopening plan is a working document. It’s subject to change,” Craig Wright, the district superintendent, said, in a video uploaded to the district’s Facebook page this week. “Things are changing all the time. CDC guidelines are changing, the governor’s orders as well.”
The school district board previously adopted a reopening plan on July 15, but has since changed the plan following consultations with public health entities, staff, and unions.
“We’ve made some changes to the plan and I think probably the biggest one that will impact our return to school is that we’re going to delay students returning to school to Aug 31 as opposed to August 25,” Wright said.
By delaying students’ return to school, the district intends to “provide more professional development” to its staff, including training on health protocols and remote teaching. Before a normal school year, staff would undergo a three-day training period. Due to the new circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the district feels that more training is necessary to provide the best that it can for students.
“We want to make sure the safety protocols we have in place are good and safe for our students on that return,” Wright said, “and the other part is we want to make sure we have a quality online and remote program on that starting day.”
Some safety measures the district plans to use include mandatory masks for students and staff. Wright said the district also expects to distribute students evenly to ensure social distancing is possible in classrooms. Because the school is offering an online program so that students can take classes remotely, class sizes will likely be smaller than in years past.
The deadline to register for online schooling is August 14. Students wishing to participate in online learning must have reliable internet. After that date, Wright said that schools will have a better idea of what regular class sizes will be. Previously the district’s policy was that a student could opt for remote learning on a semesterly or yearly basis. Now, the district has changed the policy to a quarterly basis to allow students and families more flexibility in deciding the best for their educations. If a family cannot access the online form to sign up for online learning, they may contact their building starting August 6 to fill out the appropriate paperwork.
All buildings in the district will be using the same website for remote learning to benefit families with children in different schools.
Gallipolis City Schools is collaborating with the Holzer Health System to plan for reopening and train staff in the case that a student exhibits any symptoms of COVID-19. Students who exhibit symptoms will be sent home for the remainder of the day and will be asked to remain home for at least a 24-hour period. If a student had a fever, that student must maintain a fever-free 24-hour period without medication before returning to school. In addition to social distancing, the district is making mask wearing mandatory for all students.
“Although the CDC guidelines state that preschool through second grade is not required to wear masks, we felt that it’s a safety measure that we should put in place that all students are required to wear masks,” Wright said. “We want it to be a safe place for everybody. We understand that masks protect other people from you, and it’s only fair that we put that same level of protection on everyone involved.”
Masks will be treated like any other object of clothing and must follow school dress codes decided by building principals.
Another concern for the upcoming school year is how to safely bus students to and from school. While participation in online classes will reduce in-person class sizes and the number of students riding buses, Wright was unsure whether social distancing will be possible on buses.
“We should be able to ensure two riders per seat,” he said.
The CDC recommends a social distance of six feet in public.
Orientations will be limited to students transitioning from one building to the next, and Wright asked that only one parent come per child and that all attendees wear masks. Ninth grade orientation will begin a 6 p.m. on August 20 at Gallia Academy High School. Sixth grade orientation will begin at 5 p.m. on August 19 at Gallia Academy Middle School. Kindergarten orientations will be held on August 28, and orientations will be scheduled during 15-minute increments to ensure social distancing.
Although the pandemic poses numerous challenges for the upcoming year, Wright is hopeful that the district can provide answers to concerns.
“I do care, and I do listen,” he said. “I’ve been on Facebook and I’ve seen a lot of the comments there…I’ve also met with staff and union reps and we’re trying to accommodate as much as we can. Obviously, we want our students in the building. We want a great experience. Although the COVID situation is difficult, I think we can make it a normal situation for our students as they return to school, and obviously it’s going to be a new normal.”
A list of 10 measures families should take to prepare for the school year was also posted to the district’s Facebook page. Measures include “practice hand hygiene,” “practicing putting mask on/off,” “practice 6ft of distance,” “purchase a thermometer,” “be aware of potential COVID symptoms,” “update immunizations/physical,” “provide your child with emotional support,” “purchase a reusable water bottle,” “verify/update emergency contacts,” and “stay informed.”
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