While doing their best to ensure safety of students, teachers and staff members from COVID-19, Pierre School District officials plan to start the 2020-21 academic year with in-person instruction on Aug. 20.
An extensive survey (receiving over a 90% return rate) showed 87% of students and parents preferring a return to class. Even parents of pre-kindergarten students responded to the survey.
The remaining 13% of the students plan to stay home and use online schooling, which will feature a Pierre instructor monitoring the “Edgenuity” online program.
“The new school year is going to be interesting, with different changes and a different look, in our district,” said Dan Cronin, newly elected president of the Pierre school board said. “Some other school systems are already changing what they have sent out to parents.”
“On Aug. 20, we’re back in session. We will be faced with situations that we have never faced before,” Superintendent Kelly Glodt said.
The district has guidance from the state Department of Education and the state Department of Health on what to do when a student, or a staff member, already in the building is not feeling well. A supervised isolation room will be used until a parent can get there. Having emergency contact information on file will be a high priority.
“Normal school will be different,” Glodt said. “Parents are to do a checklist every day on the health of their student — rather than adding up all the minutes used at school to do those checklists. The stakes are higher now to stay home when sick. Mask mandates have not been finalized yet.”
“Obviously, not sending students to school is a tough decision. Though, the high school has been working on E-credits for years now, particularly on credit repair and continued learning for struggling students,” Glodt continued.
“The best scenario is keeping nine sections to every class,” Glodt said. “The student numbers are a little less (13% less) and that is good for social distancing. One of these teachers at each level — district wide — will work as the online teacher. They will offer everyday access and monitoring — personal contacts and accountability. We do not want a ‘canned’ online program. We will have a Pierre influence using live teachers.”
“Our kids do need to be in school,” Glodt said. “Otherwise, kids miss out; teachers miss out. Content is just one thing with education, which includes how to resolve conflicts and social learning. We don’t want that achievement gap to increase.”
“The toughest part is that everyone wants to know yesterday. The plan will be better, more accurate, and safer if parents and students give us a little more time to set protocols and practices,” Glodt said.
The South Dakota High School Activities Association has yet to conduct its meeting to address the extra-curricular activity protocols and “what-if” scenarios. The district’s kindergarten screening is still set for Aug. 3-5; if parents have somehow not already been contacted, they should call 605-773-7300.
During the latest meeting, district officials received eight applications for open enrollment from students outside of the district.
The survey began, “It is the goal of the Pierre School District to begin the 2020-21 school year on August 20 as originally scheduled. We continue to work on a plan for all-day in-person school available to all students, but also offer online instruction to those who prefer that option.”
The Pierre School District consists of T.F. Riggs High School, Georgia Morse Middle School, Buchanan Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School and Kennedy Elementary School.
The survey also included some proactive steps to the new school year, such as:
Installing touchless water fixtures and toilets where manual existed in order to reduce touch points in restrooms;
Installing touchless hand sanitizer stations in each classroom and other common locations throughout the schools;
Increasing fresh air flow through HVAC systems;
Reconfiguring classrooms to maximize available space and allow more social distancing;
Eliminating mouth drinking from fountains and promoting use of individual water bottles; and
Reviewing and practicing good hygiene with students from day one, including frequent hand washing.
Regarding plans for those on the west side of the Missouri River, Stanley County School District Superintendent Daniel Hoey this week said, “Overall, I am very proud of our parents and staff concerning the informal ‘Return to School 2020’ meeting of parents, staff and administration, held July 14.” During the session, attendees discussed how and when — or if — to open school with “in-person” classes this fall.
The three main options discussed started with the Stanley County School District conducting classes as close to normal as possible. The second option would be for school to be completely online. What the group discussed the most was some version of blending the first two options.
School, whatever it will look like, starts Aug. 24 and runs to May 27, 2021.
“We will begin the year normally, with safeguards across the board in place,” Hoey said. “Educating students and parents has to reach success in a blended format — little bit of in-person and a little bit of online. For some areas, particularly with younger students, the online process will be more difficult. We will work with packets and our teachers. We go back to flexibility; to deliver content and lessons in multiple formats.”
In the blended option, groups of Stanley County students would “come and leave,” according to Hoey, on separate schedules. The groups would interchange schedules across the student body. For example, while one group would be in the school building in classes with teachers, the other group would be doing packets of learning online. Then the groups would flip-flop for the next period of time.