Ellsworth board sets special meeting
Hundreds of hours of work have yielded a plan for Ellsworth students to come back to school five days a week with regular busing.
Superintendent Barry Cain said in a video presentation last week that students and staff will be required to wear face coverings, though efforts will be made to put them in situations where they can be distanced enough to not have to wear them at all times.
“We literally have spent hundreds of hours now with groups of up to 40 different people who’ve been involved in how we go ahead and open our schools,” Cain said. “Our team put a tremendous amount of time and effort into this.”
The district worked with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, as well as other organizations – mainly Pierce County Public Health – in putting together the back to school plan.
More details are forthcoming. A special meeting of the Ellsworth Community School Board is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at in the High School Cafetorium. The only action item for the meeting is “Approval of School District Reopening School plan,” the agenda states.
It will be the first in-person meeting of the school board since the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March. The public is welcome to attend or to long in via the Zoom platform. The link is available in the official meeting notice in the Public Notice section of this edition of The Journal.
Cain reiterated several times during his presentation last week that a lot of communication with students and families is forthcoming from building principals in coming weeks.
And that said, all plans could change quickly, depending on the spread of COVID-19.
“In talking about this, I really want to emphasize number one, and this is what all districts need to realize, our plan is fluid. We know where we are today. We know where we want to go. Things can change,” he said. “This is a work in progress.”
There won’t be many changes in transportation, though Cain said the district is still working to “tweak” its busing plan.
“Our transportation will look largely like it does today, except looking at certain tweaks to provide transportation the best we can,” he said.
Families will sit together on buses, and seating will be assigned.
“Our regular bus routes will be running,” Cain said. “We are not in a situation in our district because busing is such an important part of our operation, we aren’t going to be able to physically truly distance on our buses.”
“Our bus routes will look very normal, but there are some tweaks we are looking at, the possibility of evening out routes to have the fewest number of students on routes. We’ll also be reaching out to families about peoples interest in driving their own children to school.”
Closures Possible If there are outbreaks or if staff members become ill, school could be intermittently closed.
“Intermittent closures may be a possibility from time to time,” he said.
Currently if staff or students exhibit symptoms of illness, they have to be out of school for 24 hours. That requirement will now be 72 hours for the wide range of COVID-19 symptoms.
“Even if the flu comes though, we may not have the staff to be able to operate.
The school district is hiring health aides for the elementary and middle school and will add an isolation room if a student is exhibiting symptoms during the day. Also, additional custodial staff is being hired for sanitizing during the school day and many sanitizing stations are being set up in school buildings.
The district is looking to hire part-time substitute teachers to have staff on hand in case teachers get sick, instead of having to rely on calling in subs at the last minute.
School is set to start with the interim session Aug. 25-27, and the district is hoping for a good turnout those days.
“We had 86 percent of our students or so attend last year. Obviously it’s even more important this year that kids attend the interim session to get back in the swing of things,” said Cain.
The first regular day of school is Sept. 1.
For students whose families choose not to have them attend in-person school, “We are going to have a very, very robust online learning opportunity,” said Cain.
“Much more information is going to be coming out about that,” said Cain. He noted that it will be different from the spring online classes.
There will be no school open houses or orientation this year.
“Those types of large events are certainly not something we’re looking at doing as a district at this time,” said Cain.
No volunteers or visitors will be allowed in schools during the school day either this year.
All students will be provided their own Chromebook computer.
“We have made the investment to purchase more Chromebooks,” said Cain, noting students will not have to share computers.
Students and staff will have to bring their own water bottles, and additional water refilling stations are being added in the middle and high school, as water fountains will be off limits.
On the topic of co-curricular activities, Cain said the district is working to keep them schedules.
“Who knows? We may be cancelling for different situations. They may be amended. This is something that’s an ongoing thing that’s evolving at this point,” said Cain. “We’re doing everything we can possibility do to keep cocurricular activities happening at this point, but it’s evolving.”
Cohorting and masks The district is doing everything it can to keep students in same groups to avoid contact with too many other students.
“We’re cohorting students whenever we possibly can. We’re limiting their contacts with other students,” said Cain.
Classes will stay together and elementary students will eat in their classrooms.
“This reduces their contacts,” said Cain. “If someone does test positive, we can limit the number of people we have to go through the contact tracing.”
The cohorting is more difficult at the middle and high school levels. Backpacks will be allowed, though, and lockers are going to be spaced out.
For high school lunch, “There will be smaller groups entering the lunchroom with larger numbers of rotations coming through.”
Cain said that currently staff in buildings have to wear a mask if they’re within six feet of other staff members.
“They can take it off when they’re not,” he said.
“We’re implementing that for staff and students at our August summer school. That’s a big change, and I will say we’re looking at the same idea for our regular school year. When any student or staff is within six feet of each other, not physically distanced, they will have to wear a face mask.” Said Cain.
That plan will be monitored at the August summer school session to see how it works with elementary students.
During the school year, the district will do what it can so students don’t have to have face coverings on at all times.
“We’re looking at spaces where we can give kids breaks away from masks,” said Cain. “We really feel at our elementary level, by taking some of the other things out of our classrooms we can space it so when kids are at their desks in large group instruction, they will not need to be wearing a face mask.”
“The middle and high school are a little more difficult,” he said, nothing that library space and computer labs can be utilized as areas where kids can space out more.
Cain said feedback can be given to school staff and school board members.
“If things keep going the way they are, we’re looking forward to having everyone back in our Ellsworth schools,” said Cain.