School Policies Changed Due to COVID
Many policies needed to be adjusted due to the spread of COVID once everyone was able to return to school in at least a hybrid model. Due to CDC and state recommendations, the number of students on a bus was restricted. On a 72-passenger bus, only siblings could sit together and the rest of the students had to be spaced apart in separate seats.
In a hybrid setting, the number of students was restricted to a classroom. Students needed to be spaced every six feet and facing the same way which created a situation in which only about half of any given class could attend in person. This, in turn, led to some schools needing to split those wanting to return to attending every other week and learning remotely every other week.
Before students could even return to school, policies were changed to requiring the wearing of a mask at all times with the exception of eating. When eating, students were to be spaced six feet apart. Mask breaks were instituted twice a day outdoors. Recess was no longer recess, but was more of a social break. No equipment was able to be used. Self-certification was required for all students prior to getting on a school bus or entering the school building. For younger students, parents were required to do a self-certification check each morning. Staff were also required to do a self-certification daily prior to entering a building.
Policies were changed district-wide concerning the use of volunteers and having parents and outside people in the building. All volunteering was suspended. No parent or outside person was allowed in without self-certifying first and there was signage indicating to call the secretaries before attempting to enter the building. If the request was deemed necessary, they could self-certify and come to the office. If there was another way to take care of the request, the secretaries would go out to the cars and handle the issues. If someone was able to come in, they needed to sign a sheet indicating time in, time out, and location. That way, if someone was found to have COVID, contact tracing would easily be able to take place.
Quarantining was mandatory if one was exposed to a person testing positive for COVID. There was a mandatory quarantine period along with an expectation of a negative COVID test. Kids exhibiting symptoms in school would be asked to go home immediately and either show proof of a negative COVID test or do a quarantine in order to be able to return to school. Until that time, they would do remote learning on their iPads.
School Procedures Changed Due to COVID
Because the physical spacing requirement was six feet apart, schools had to rethink how to do daily activities. Teachers were teaching half of the class in person sitting at desks in front of them and the other half of the class at home in front of a computer. The teachers had many screens, iPads, computers, and even a specialized sound system field for this. This required teachers to teach from one location instead of moving about the room as they would typically do and as is best practice.
There were no physical centers or group work. Anything like that would have to be done in a monitored breakout room on a computer. Even the morning announcements, typically done over the loudspeaker each morning, were changed to a recorded video version so that teachers could show them to the kids at home as well as those in school physically.
Other classes such as PE, music, art, library, and technology had to be rethought. Instead of having kids come to these classes, these classes were all set up on wheels and brought into the classroom. Projects and activities had to have personal supplies used instead of group or shared supplies. Movement was limited to a six-square-foot space. By having these classes on wheels, the intense sanitation that was required between groups of kids was avoided and there was less chance of cross-contamination between student groups. Students were not exposed to other students in their grade, only to those in their class/cohort.
Lunch/recess was another huge change. Serving hot meals was not allowed, and all lunches were bagged lunches, and the students ate in their individual classrooms to avoid the mass grouping that typically happens in a school cafeteria. Students ate in their six-foot square and because they were six feet apart, they could remove their masks for eating. Recess consisted of a movement break inside of the classroom. Outside recess equipment could not be sanitized quickly enough or thoroughly enough to allow use. The grouping and congregating of students could not take place as it normally would in an outdoor recess setting.
Bathrooms were assigned by grade level and wing and were individually used. Sanitation took place several times per day with special power washers and disinfectant systems. A UVC light is also used. As rooms were thoroughly cleaned and sanitized each night, a sticker was affixed to the door indicating it had been done. The staff was not able to stay as late as they usually did or come in as early as some liked. Hours had to be set from 6 AM to 5 PM daily, and staff was not allowed in outside of that in order for appropriate sanitation to be completed. Water fountains and filler stations installed for students to use with water bottles were closed.
Meetings and typical evening events changed drastically over this time. Staff meetings, once held as a group, were now done virtually. IEP meetings needed to be done virtually as well, and signing was done via the computer and a shared screen. Grade-level music concerts were canceled. Parent/teacher conferences were held remotely via computer.
Some things were able to be modified. Some after school clubs were held remotely. The drama club had a presentation that was recorded remotely through the computer, then put together and posted with a link sent home to parents for viewing. For the yearly Curriculum Night, teachers used a virtual meet similar to the way they held class and hosted all parents in this forum. These were all very different than the typical types of school activities the school had in the past. Even at the Board of Education level, the meetings were held virtually with links provided to the community and staff for attendance.
Policies and Procedures Being Reinstated
More students are now able to be in a classroom for fall. With the new 3-foot rule instead of a 6-foot rule, all students can now safely fit into the classrooms; therefore, learning in a classroom will be fulling in person and none will be remote. Should there be students with severe medical diagnoses that require remote learning, those students will be taught through a county-wide cohort that the area superintendents have put together for this purpose. A teacher will no longer be expected to teach both remote and in person learners.
Students will return masked at all times other than lunch times in which they will eat 6 feet apart. Self-certification will continue to be required, but in a modified format. Parents will sign a weekly self- certification agreement not to send a child with symptoms instead of this being a daily requirement. Multiple students will be able to use multiple bathrooms and intermix with others.
Related arts classes, such as art, PE, music, tech, and library, will be held in their respective locations instead of being taught from a cart in each classroom. Lunch will no longer be held in the classroom. Hot lunches will again be served instead of a cold, brown bag lunch.
Busses will be run at capacity again; however, masks will be required. Recess equipment will be used and regular recesses reinstated instead of the mask break. School will look the way it used to look. Students will be able to interact with one another in the classrooms without the constant worry and having to sanitize so often.
Sanitation, while still being done, will not be at the level it once was. More has been learned about the COVID virus and how long it lasts on surfaces. That will help to alleviate the concerns about having to sanitize every single time someone touches an object. Materials can again be shared. Students can sit at a table with others.
Visitors and volunteers will once again be welcome in the building. The school will ask that adults be vaccinated if they would like to come into the school setting; otherwise, different arrangements can be made. This will be helpful for things like grade level concerts, Curriculum Night, Open House, and other fun family events. While these may still be broadcast via live streaming, vaccinated parents may now enter the buildings for group events. The number allowed will be decided upon after reviewing CDC and IDPH rules and guidelines.
Improved Policies and Procedures as a Result of the Pandemic
The changes that took place were reviewed with the staff members. After much discussion, there were several things that the building decided were improvements and should be kept as new procedures. Some of the items were as follows:
- The taped video announcements were better than the formerly used intercom announcements. The format was exciting and entertaining for the kids; therefore, the staff voted to keep this format.
- Students who are too sick to come to school, but not sick enough to require bedrest can still have the option to participate remotely. The students will be able to hear what is going on and view the classroom through the camera, but it will still count as a sick day. This will enable the teacher and kids to keep the relationship going and make it easier on the sick child.
- Parent-Teacher conferences will be held either virtually or in person, whichever the parent prefers. Staff found that the ease of conducting such a conference virtually was a good option for parents working a different shift other than days. Traveling parents could also take part. The attendance rate of conferences during COVID were the highest the school had ever seen. Curriculum Night will also be live streamed through each teacher’s classroom for the same reasons as outlined for the conferences.
- The end of day bus and car dismissal procedures were deemed to be more efficient and safe than the way things used to be. Students were signed out at the cars and bus riders were streamed a little at a time through the hallways so that only the busses that had arrived were being filled first. Supervision was made better and easier.
- Water fill stations were popular. Though the drinking fountains will be turned back on, teachers liked having the students have a water bottle with them regularly and filling it throughout the day. This did away with group water fountain breaks and was deemed more sanitary. Kids were able to stay hydrated during the day.
- Attendance was changed to be done on the computer and it made life in the office and life for the teachers much easier. The only paper attendance reports that will be done will happen in the case of a substitute teacher.
- The staff decided that they liked have a specialized SEL class that the social workers ran as a related arts class instead of only having their morning meetings. Now both will be done. The SEL class will allow the teaching of common vocabulary and common strategies and will be an additional support that is needed, particularly after coming back after a pandemic.
Overall, some of the changes that were made will end up making school a better place for everyone. The pandemic did allow for review of regular routines and improvements.