PATRIOT — Prepared for any situation.
As the school year edges closer, the Gallia County Local School District is working to make sure it’s prepared for whatever challenges may lie ahead.
“At the end of last year, we used every tool in our tool box,” Superintendent Jude Meyers said. “From sending home paper packets, to teachers getting on the phone to try and reach out to parents and have that weekly communication, and even some of the drivers who were taking meals exchanging items.”
The Gallia County staff reports on Aug. 19, with student’s first day as Aug. 31. After a professional development day on the first day, and a mock school day on day two, Aug. 21 is the current target date to discuss future plans.
“The third day of professional development, we’re going to gear toward going over our plan,” Meyers said. “Why are we waiting until the third day to do the plan? Because it changes it seems like everyday. We’ll get more updated information, we’ll go through our plan and we’ll have nurses present.”
Meyers noted the district is working in collaboration with Holzer, as well as the county health department and other schools in the county.
“When you consider all the factors, you have CDC guidelines, Ohio Department of Education guidelines, and you have legal advice, we have a pretty tiny bubble that we can work in.” Meyers said. “We came up with the three plans, if we go every day, if we do a two-two split with a day in between for cleaning, and if we go fully remote.”
While the district is prepared for all-three scenarios, Meyers talked about flexibility being a key for the upcoming year.
“We do care, we care about our kids, we care about our staff,” Meyers said. “We know that nothing beats those kids being in our buildings everyday, but we have to be flexible. A lot of the decisions we’re going to make maybe out of our hands. This is our first go at educating our kids in so many different ways. Basically what we’ve been asked to do is change the way we educate kids in the course of six months, and of course you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, you don’t know the next changes coming.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of times where we’re here today, and something else might happen and now we have to go to a different plan tomorrow. That’s tough on families and that’s tough on kids. One thing school usually provides is those days of consistency. We’re going to have to be a lot more flexible, because we don’t know how consistent it’s going to be.”
The district is requiring the use of masks at least 3-ply or thicker, and parents may purchase masks, but there will also be masks provided.
“The school will also provide those face coverings, we’ve ordered enough to cover all of our kids,” Meyers said. “People on the north will get black masks that have the RV symbol on them, and people on the south with get the red masks with the SG symbol. Also, through our ESC and FEMA, we’ve received 2,000 masks that we can place on buses and things like that.”
With cleaning guidelines, one main concern for Gallia County Local Schools is having enough resources.
“We have some protocol in place, but probably one of the most challenging things is product,” Meyers said. “We have these Clorox 360 machines, right now we can’t be guaranteed that the product will be here, but there’s two additional products that we’ve gone ahead and purchased, and they can be used as well.
“We have to wipe down cafeteria tables after every eating, and we have to make sure teachers have enough spray that they can disinfect desks after every change of class, it’s more on the high school end of things. Our buses have to be sprayed down after every ridership. It has to be quick, we can’t spend an hour cleaning each item.”
Additionally, gallons of hand sanitizer will be placed in every class room.
If in-school learning isn’t possible at any point this fall, the district will be relying on technology to pick up where they left off in the spring.
“We’re fortunate, we’re on pretty much a 1-to-1 Chromebook initiative now,” said Meyers. “Some of these lessons can be shared through a flash drive, and once that Chromebook hits somewhere there is connectivity, then it would sync their work right back to it. It’s not the most optimal situation, but at least we’ll still be sending the work out, they’ll still be able to complete it, and it will be able to sync up. That will eliminate some of the danger in sending out a lot of paper packets and things of that nature.”
Meyers added that WiFi is available from the parking lots of the district’s buildings, but reliable internet county-wide is still an issue.
“There has been a grant made available, but our biggest problem is still infrastructure,” Meyers said. “When they talk about hot spots and things of that nature, a hot spot has to have a place to connect to. We’ve been working with JB-Nets locally, and I know they’re trying to expand their coverage, but that’s a slow process, because every tower they put up, there’s a cost associated with that. I know AT&T has put a few more towers in the county, but obviously we have a lot of areas that are still remote. That still presents a challenge to us.”
When it comes to extra-curricular activities, Meyers is taking into consideration ability to socially distance and potential travel to COVID-19 hot spots, and is also allowing parents to sign a waiver to drive their student athletes to away contests. Still, he knows that the final word on fall sports will likely come from the state level.
“There’s a lot of challenges left ahead,” Meyers said. “Whether we move forward with athletics, that decision is going to be made by a power much higher than here at the district level. As for now, I know we’ve had some scrimmages, golf is starting, and we’re planing to move ahead.”
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Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.