Charter School, districts prepare to return to class

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The Villages Daily Sun | By Dayna Straehley | June 24, 2020

Administrators at The Villages Charter School and districts in the tri-county area are busy planning how students will go back to school in August.

Those plans are sure to emphasize a new subject — thorough hand-washing, as well as email etiquette and programs for online learning in case local health departments order schools to shut down.

“If we’re forced to go to distance learning again, we’ll be much better prepared,” Sumter County Schools Superintendent Richard Shirley said.   

They’re also planning for contingencies.

Gov. Ron DeSantis released recommendations June 11 for schools to fully reopen in August. Districts in the tri-county area said they will present their completed plans to the respective school boards in July. 

However, Sumter County School District’s professional development director, Dana Williams, told the Sumter County School Board meeting a week ago that the district is preparing three plans and outlined what will be in them once written. 

The primary plan is for traditional face-to-face instruction inside brick-and-mortar school buildings, she said. 

A second plan blends classroom instruction and online practice. Half of the students would be on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays, and practice lessons and do homework online from home with their laptop computers Wednesdays and Fridays. The other half would be on campus Wednesdays and Fridays, and practice lessons and do homework from home Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays will look different at each school, Williams said.

The third plan would be for distance learning in the event students can’t come back on campus or the coronavirus flares up in one school. Williams said schools will be better prepared than they were in March.

Sumter Schools’ reopening plan for summer on-site classes in July will be a dry run to open schools in August, Shirley said.

However, the summer school programs will be limited to few students, the 10 students with the lowest reading scores per grade level from each elementary school, all third-graders reading below grade level, and high school students who need to make up algebra exams required for graduation and who need to make up other end-of-course exams.

Greater physical distancing will be possible with the smaller summer school classes, but desks still will probably not be 6 feet apart. This summer, only elementary classrooms with sinks for hand-washing will be used. Hand sanitizer stations will be in each classroom for the regular school year.

“The bottom line is we want kids washing their hands or sanitizing their hands every time they enter and exit the classroom,” secondary education Director Allen Shirley told the board.

All desks will be separated as much as space allows and face the front of the classroom, which he said is not ideal from an instructional standpoint, instead of being arranged for small groups of students to collaborate, which educators now favor.

Students will be encouraged to wear masks. They will not share supplies. Playground and sports equipment, from hula hoops to basketballs, will be cleaned and sanitized between classes. Rooms will be sanitized daily, and teachers will have spray bottles to clean and sanitize their own desks and for their use in classrooms.

Students will be given wipes to clean their desks and computers at the end of each afternoon, Williams said.

Distance-learning packets will be printed and available. If they’re not needed, they will be sent home at the end of summer school for additional practice with parents. 

Teachers and staff will be screened and have their temperatures taken each morning and sent home if they show any signs of illness. Students also may have their temperatures checked.

Schools will have designated sick rooms, probably larger than the school nurse’s office, Williams said.

Schools also will review individual plans for all students identified as medically vulnerable to determine what additional precautions are needed. Then the principal will work with parents.

When students come back on campus in August, teachers will immediately have them start using their laptop computers in class and the online learning tools used for distance learning, Williams said. Schools want those programs to become routine for all students in case they have to go to distance learning again.

Homework will all be assigned to use a computer, and teachers will all create a week’s worth of distance learning plans, she said. 

The first five days of school, parents will be allowed to walk their elementary students to class but not be allowed to enter the classrooms, Williams said. 

Students will be encouraged to eat lunch outdoors as much as possible, where they can practice social distancing better and where experts say airborne viruses are less likely to be transmitted than indoors.