The Flandreau School District has pushed back its first day of school to Aug. 24, in order to allow for additional staff training before students come to the classrooms.
The original start date was Aug. 20.
When students return to school, they and staff will be required to wear masks while they are on the move, and masks are recommended within the classroom. That means everyone will wear them in hallways, standing in line for lunch, going to the restroom and going between classes.
Masks are just one of the precautions the district is taking to welcome students back to classes during a global pandemic.
While some students will report to their classrooms, about 10 percent to 20 percent of students are choosing online learning from home, said Superintendent Rick Weber. There also may be points in the year when students will come to school two days a week in smaller groups and learn online from teachers at home the other days. The district calls that a “hybrid model” of learning and is designed for when there are some cases of COVID-19. If the number of positive cases in the school district get too high, all students may end up working online from home.
The district surveyed parents late last month about their ideas for the start of school and received 326 responses.
A majority of parents, 57.7 percent were most comfortable with starting school with face-to-face instruction, while 26 percent favored the hybrid model. The survey showed that 16.3 percent of parents responding preferred school was all online learning with no students in the building.
If school could start with no known positive cases of COVID-19, 71.4 percent of parents would send their kids to school. Of those surveyed, 29.3 percent wanted their children to only participate in online learning this fall.
The response was basically a 50-50 split between those parents who believe the school should require mask use and those who do not. If masks are required, 67.6 percent said they would be comfortable sending their kids to school, while 32.4 percent would not.
Staff who answered the survey showed that 54.2 percent say the district should require everyone on school property to wear a mask. If they were required, 81.3 percent would feel comfortable at school, according to 96 responses. Comparatively, 67.7 percent said they would feel comfortable if masks were only recommended. Staff also prefer temperature screenings onsite instead of the district’s plan to have parents do that at home.
About 75 percent of families have a plan for child supervision if the school district has to send kids home to learn online.
The school board also voted to purchase an air filtration system that should be installed by the time school starts. The system is supposed to reduce germs in the air by 99.4 percent within 30 minutes. Several schools have purchased the same system, Weber said.
Board President Tom Stenger said the system will be good for more than eliminating potential coronavirus germs. “I think this will help us with a lot of illnesses,” he said.
The system’s approximate $100,000 cost will come out of the district’s capital outlay budget with a plan to apply for a COVID grant when it becomes available.
Weber talked about a few additional details of the back-to-school plan, including how it will change the music program. If possible, groups may rehearse outside. Band and chorus teachers can focus more on music theory instead of performance, too. Elementary students might even sing while using clear shields to prevent germs from spewing into the air.
At lunch, students will be able to say what they want on their trays, but workers will dish it up. The fruit and vegetable bar will be pre-packaged in baggies that students can pick up and go. No more than four people will be allowed at each table, and additional lunch space will be set up in the gym.
On buses, students will be assigned seats, with families sitting together and everyone staying a safe distance apart. Each bus will be sanitized twice a day, and bus windows will be open whenever possible to provide additional ventilation.
While the board approved the plan, there could continue to be changes in protocol that will be in place when school starts.
“This is a working document. It’s moving,” Weber said.