School board approves reopening plan, new calendar… Superintendent says key to this year is flexibility

by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — The Wellington School Board unanimously approved its reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year (see full plan here). The big theme at the moment: everything is subject to change.

In the ongoing ebb-and-flow that is the Coronavirus pandemic, the Wellington school staff is implementing an 84-page contingency plan that will look much like a food buffet  – filled with several options to best suit individual students and the USD 353 staff.

The board also approved the 2020-21 calendar with its delayed start of Sept. 8. The school day will have 15 minutes each day to make up for the lost hour of not starting in late August. School is scheduled to end on May 21 and all the vacations and in-service days will remain the same.

How those school hours will be used by the students and their teachers and administrators will be the tricky part.

“We are starting a hybrid pattern that hopefully best supports education, supports families and supports the health of the community,” said Wellington Superintendent Adam Hatfield.

There will be a three-prong plan, that will be fashioned after a stoplight: Red, Yellow and Green. The plans will work as follows:

RED — This will be a plan implemented if COVID-19 numbers strike in the community and a large body of students have tested positive for the virus. Chances are students would be taking online classes only.

YELLOW — Would be for the cautionary phase in which hybrid scheduling goes into effect meaning some students would go in the morning, others in the afternoon, and several will work remotely online.

GREEN — Will be the plan when COVID-19 cases are down and the Sumner County Health Department lifts the six-foot social distancing restriction. Students can go all day.

Wellington Curriculum Director Jen Kern emphasized that no matter what the plan is, remote learning will be available for anyone who desires it. Also, mask-wearing and social distancing measures will still be implemented at all times.

The USD 353 school district will hold school on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday. Wednesday will be reserved with cleaning the facilities.

Each student going face-to-face will be required to take a temperature check before entering any school building. Kern said no student should arrive before 7:30 a.m. and should arrive at 7:5o a.m. There has been no decision on what time the USD 353 staff should arrive.

Sept. 8 is still almost a month away. School officials readily admit they don’t know what is going to happen. It will depend on the COVID case counts in the future. A more definitive plan will be implemented after meeting with Sumner Health officials on August 24.

“The key is flexibility,” Hatfield said. “What might work well on Sept. 8 might not work in two weeks. We have built a system that will be flexible enough to change with the times based on the recommendations of the health department.”

One of the big questions still left answered is social distancing. If the SHD determines that students will need to be six feet apart, then USD 353 will implement half-day schedules. This means they will get face-to-face instruction half of the day, and go home to do homework on the other half day. Which students go to class in the morning and which in the afternoon, has yet to be determined.

Each student will have the opportunity to have two meals. Morning students would have breakfast and lunch. The afternoon students will have lunch and after-school snacks.

“We will undoubtedly need to have more bus drivers,” Hatfield said. “Since students will be coming in on two different times of the day and will be social distancing.”

Unlike spring, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit the school district with little warning, this year’s online class participation will be much more mandatory and rigid.

“If students are working from home, they must be present every day online,” Kern said. “They will be expected to turn in work and a student daily log will be required with the parent’s signature.”

Nothing is being left to chance. School meals will be prepackaged with students eating at the desk. Playground equipment will unfortunately be prohibited for use. Students will have assigned seats. They will be asked to bring their own water bottles and there will be assigned water station.

“We are not sure what is going to happen,” Hatfield said. “I can see myself writing a weekly message until we get through this.”

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