By Tim Huether
School for students attending the Bennett County School District will begin Aug. 17, with a two week soft opening planned.
At a special board meeting Monday night in Martin, the board approved the soft opening as well as a Return to School Plan that outlines just about every possible necessary action, centered around COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations.
Supt. Stacy Halverson said after meeting with staff relentlessly and a finalization committee, their recommendation was to start Aug. 17, if everything stays as it is today, and have a soft opening for two weeks.
A soft opening will mean one half of the students will attend classes at their designated building on Monday, Aug. 17, and Wednesday Aug. 19, while the remaining half will attend classes on Tuesday and Thursday for the first week. The same thing will be covered on Monday as Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday will be the same, so students who are on the off days and not attending, will not have class work, just for the first week.
“The rationale behind that is to help the staff develop relationships with these kids that have been out of our building for over five months,” said Halverson. “It will help them get re-established in a smaller class size. It will also help them take all these protocols that are going to be new and help them have the chance to get the protocols in place with a smaller number of students. It will allow us to get our benchmark testing, our evaluations, to see where our students are after a five month absence from our buildings and start to develop where we need to begin in our classrooms when we come back full speed ahead.”
Halverson said the staff indicated the first week of school is normally stressful on them and indicated this soft opening will help them with their stress level.
“After the first week, what we want to hopefully do is start them working more on the flex learning in the days we have them, so heaven forbid if we have to go to that, or that an individual student does, we have a better opportunity to make sure they are prepared,” said Halverson.
The superintendent said this will also help with the busing as they will need to know how many kids are coming back, how many are going to make a remote learning choice, and that will help us to determine our busing needs as well.
Board member Todd Alexander asked how the second week of school would work and Halverson pointed out they will still be on the half in school and half at home, but the way it is designed, the second week they will work on getting the virtual/flex learning, parallel learning situation up and going to see how it works.
Ideally, week three they would be back at full schedule.
Halverson said they will determine which students attend which half of the classes to start, by alphabet, but pointed out they will put those in the same family on the same days.
The board approved the August 17 soft opening plan.
In other action, Halverson presented a Return to School Plan, developed with information from the Dept. of Health Dept. of Education, School Administrators of S.D., Center for Disease Control, the local COVID-19 committee, BCSD staff and parents.
Halverson and her administrators pointed out the plan will remain very fluid to adjust to the ever-changing situation revolving around COVID-19.
The purpose of the plan is to ensure every student in the school district receive an equitable education and has equal access to learning and instruction during any school disruption such as a pandemic and to develop protocols to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus within the school setting and to provide for the safety of students and staff.
The document is lengthy and will be made available to the public and should be on the school’s website now. Here are some of the key things addressed in the plan:
-Equal access to learning and required materials, including technology for all students
-Mitigate the spread of the virus through clear mitigation protocols
-Clear and consistent communication with all stakeholders
-Attendance will be tracked whether student is receiving face to face instruction or distance learning
-Protocol for positive COVID-19 cases
-Protocol for sick students in school (not COVID-19 related)
-Face coverings for staff and students are highly recommended, but are not mandatory
-Parents are responsible for screening their students for symptoms in the morning before sending them to school, and a checklist will be provided to assist them. They must keep sick kids at home.
-Students will be assigned a technology device to be used at school and home if necessary
-Building and classroom practices will include: Promoting social distancing, monitoring mixing of students, spacing seating/desks, limit students sharing of material, promoting healthy hygiene practices such as washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, etc.
-Facility and Maintenance; all building will have a sanitizing/cleaning schedule and approved leaning supplies will be used, hand sanitizer dispensers will be placed in all classrooms and common areas, water fountains with touchless water bottle filler units will be in all buildings, etc.
-Hand sanitizer will be available on all buses, disposable masks will be available on the buses, students from the same family are encouraged to sit together, when possible students will sit 1 student per seat on the bus, buses will be sanitized after each route, parents have the option of transporting their own children.
The school board also approved a quote from Rasmussen Mechanical Services to install GPS ionization on all HVAC equipment in the district at a cost of $81,271.
Halverson said the funds come through the CARES Act, which is COVID-19 money. This will be for all school buildings and eventually the new building.
A follow-up story on the start of school will appear in the Aug. 5 edition of the Booster.