Our schools will ‘reopen’ next month

Empty swings hang motionless on the playground at Douglas Intermediate School on July 18.

Douglas schools will reopen under one of three scenarios, Superintendent Paige Fenton-Hughes said this week, but which one will depend on COVID-19’s impact locally in a month.

As of right now, the district would qualify to reopen under the state’s tier one rules, which would open the classrooms and in-person teaching to “most students” on the first day, Aug. 24.

If COVID cases continue to increase or do so dramatically between now and that first day, the district may have to reopen under the tier two option (open for fewer students and others taught fully or partially online) or tier three (online only).

“The state Smart Start plan outlines three options, or tiers, for school in the fall and we are aligning our reopening plan to those three tiers, Fenton-Hughes said.

Tier I is where schools are open so most students can be on campus, she explained. The “most students” designation means those without medical or other reasons to stay at home will be going to the school buildings.

“At the same time, an adaptive (remote) option will be provided to students as some will have medical or other reasons they will not return to the classroom in person,” Fenton-Hughes said.

If the county’s COVID experience does not allow for tier one, the district will consider tier two or three.

Tier II is a hybrid, or blended, model where some students will be on campus and some will learn remotely. Tier III is full adaptive learning delivered online.

“That would be like (what we had) in spring, however this fall the content and pace will mirror the in-person instruction in classrooms,” she said. “We have a lot more experience, both students and teachers, with adaptive learning, and we can deliver the entire curriculum at the normal pace. Right now, our county metrics allow us to shoot for a Tier I opening but we all realize that could change if our health metrics related to COVID-19 change.”

The district hopes to have its plan in place within two weeks, and the Douglas School Board is set to meet on the plan at noon on Aug. 6 in the Central Administration board room. The meeting is open to the public but will basically be a work session, according to the public notice published this week in the Budget.

The district has been surveying parents about returning to school for about a month. Some parents have already decided they don’t want their students to return to school in the fall, but Fenton-Hughes said the district is waiting to have final results of that survey before releasing how many.

Whatever the parents decide, the school administration is taking all reasonable precautions to keep staff and students safe, according to Fenton-Hughes.

“Most of our families have been contacted and a large majority are planning to send their students to school in-person in the fall,” she said. “We have a reopening committee and are working out the parameters for a safe return aligned with the state requirements. As these plans take shape, we’ll be sharing out information to the community.”

Among the precautions are employing enhanced cleaning and sanitation measures, enforcing social distancing, wearing face covering or using shields, screening for COVID-19 symptoms, staying home when sick and encouraging hand washing and other hygiene measures, according to Fenton-Hughes.

“We do have protocols for when a person becomes sick at school and when a person in the school tests positive for COVID-19,” she said. “If there is a positive case, the school will be closed for cleaning for two to five days according to state requirements. If that happens, the school can switch to adaptive learning with no loss of school days.”

While there is no final plan put in place right now, Fenton-Hughes is confident that the district will do whatever it takes to educate the kids.

“Our COVID-19 metrics have been relatively positive compared to many other counties. It’s a difficult time with the pandemic and the economic downturn,” she said. “Our support from the community is tremendous. Not everyone will like all the parts of the plans but I hope we’ll support each other as best we can and make a difficult situation work. Our staff is amazing and they haven’t lowered their expectations, but they miss the kids.”

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