Northwest Allen County Schools’ Board of School Trustees approved its final school reopening plan July 27. The plan includes a remote learning option for students in the upcoming school year, as well as a requirement that students wear masks if they choose to attend school in person.
The first student day is planned for Aug. 12. For students returning to in-person classes, facial coverings will be required on buses and in public spaces where social distancing of 6 feet is not possible.
If a case of COVID-19 is discovered within any of the district’s schools, decisions on whether to quarantine potentially exposed students, or close buildings down like the district did in March, will be determined by the Allen County Department of Health.
“We’re prepared to figure out how to turn on a dime,” NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said, noting that in March the district closed its doors to transition to remote learning after only ever having one previous e-learning day. “And, by March 18 we had completely implemented an entirely new system, and yes, we learned a lot throughout it.”
Himsel said the district has already seen the practicality of some of the safety measures it plans to implement, as some students have attended summer school already. So far, there have been no positive cases of the novel coronavirus within NACS’ schools.
The strongest effort to continuing that streak this fall, Himsel noted, will be to encourage students and staff to stay home if they are showing one or more symptoms of COVID-19. Any visitors will also be asked screening questions before they are allowed into school buildings. Because some individuals have contracted the virus without showing any symptoms, the district will continue to promote contact tracing efforts through the implementation of seating charts and social distancing where possible.
Hand sanitizer and hand washing opportunities will be provided throughout the day, and shared items and surfaces will be cleaned regularly. Touchless water filling stations are currently being installed throughout the district as well, and air filtration has been increased.
Student drop-offs will be staggered to prevent large groups from gathering outside each morning, and field trips have been suspended until further notice.
Unlike other school districts, NACS still plans to serve fresh food in its cafeterias, rather than providing packaged foods in classrooms. However, no self-serve ala carte or salad bars will be offered. The district plans to adjust schedules so fewer students are in the cafeteria during each lunch period. Students will be required to wear masks while waiting in line and after they finish eating.
“We encourage them to socialize and talk to one another, but we encourage them to do it with the face coverings on,” Himsel said. “There may be opportunities in some cafeterias where they will be more than 6 feet apart.”
Schedules will be staggered to limit the number of students in hallways during transitions between classes, and restroom breaks will be coordinated — albeit frequent, Himsel said. Recess schedules will be coordinated as well.
Carroll High School will be on a block schedule every day of the week, which will add an additional lunch period. High school students will also be given the option to not be assigned a locker this year.
“We can’t stop the passing periods at the high school because they all have such specialized schedules,” Himsel said. “I’m not sure there’s five or six kids with the same schedule in the entire high school.”
Classes will be moved to larger spaces whenever possible, and teachers will be encouraged to take their classes outdoors when the weather permits it.
If a student is exposed to COVID-19 and has to be quarantined, access to Canvas will be provided to continue learning, Himsel said.
As far as athletic events go, spectator capacity will be determined by state orders. Himsel said because crowds will be limited in size, there should be opportunities for social distancing. If not, spectators will be required to wear masks.
Himsel said in planning its reopening, the district has worked closely with a group of doctors who “have all been helpful in trying to help us understand this from a pediatric perspective as well as from an occupational health perspective. All of them have been easy and wonderful to work with. Our local people have been the most reasonable people throughout the entire process.”