ACSD unveils list of back-to-school rules

“We need to work together and we can’t expect things are going to return to any kind of ‘normal’ … for a period of time given how changeable we’re seeing the school landscape and the health landscape across the country.” — Superintendent Peter Burrows

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury-area parents have been looking ahead to the start of school on Sept. 8 with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.

Returning to campus will represent a return to “normal” for many families, even if it’s only for two days each week, with the other three days involving online studies.

But there’s also been some anxiety about how children will be protected from COVID-19, and what will happen if a wave of the pandemic surges through the student body.

The Addison Central School District (ACSD) late last week released a document that gives parents some answers.

The 66-page “ACSD Health & Safety School Reentry Guidelines” spells out how school procedures and activities will conform with state and federal guidelines aimed at staving off the coronavirus while children are at school.

The reentry plan prescribes COVID-related marching orders for student/staff health screenings, busing, cleaning and disinfecting, physical distancing, public use of schools, large activities/sports, food services, facial coverings, and contact tracing and other precautionary measures.

It’s the work of more than 70 members of the school community, including administrators, school board members and parents who together formed the ACSD Health and Safety Action Team.

And their work isn’t done, according to ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows.

“They helped create this initial plan, and our process through the year is to keep these groups meeting to assess where we are, how we’re doing, whether we need to transition in any way, and bring coherence to the work we’re doing,” Burrows said on Monday.

“There’s so much changing by the day. This group and recovery planning was designed to bring all the different leaders and work together into a cohesive process to help us make the right decisions and make sure everyone is part of those decisions and maintain clarity around communication — which we realized is critical during the pandemic.”

BROAD OUTLINE

The ACSD’s reentry guidelines can be read in their entirety at tinyurl.com/y5afglpk. Here’s a sampling:

•  All students, staff members and visitors must have a daily health screening, including temperature check at or before the first point of contact prior to entering a school building as described below. Health screening questions will be completed at home by a parent or guardian (or student if high school age). Temperature checks will be completed by ACSD staff at the first point of entry to the school. Visitors will also need to perform a health screening before entering the building.

Any one “yes” answer to the above screening questions, or a temperature of 100.4 or higher taken at home, and the student must stay home for the day. Parents/guardians must contact their primary care physician for guidance, and the school nurse must be notified.

Students will be asked to maintain a stock of three face coverings for school, in case one or more get dirty. While students will be responsible for their own masks, the district will have some spares to pass out for those who are caught shorthanded.

“The state has provided us with some, and we’ve bought some,” Burrows said. “We’ll be prepared.”

• Students must perform hand hygiene upon boarding buses and wear masks, and those who are visibly ill with symptoms that could be related to COVID-19 (cough, nasal congestion, vomiting) won’t be allowed to board buses and will be sent home with a responsible adult. If no one is available to take the student home, the student will board the bus with social distancing on the ride to school, where a nurse or assistant will evaluate the student and isolate him or her, if needed.

•  Schools will be cleaned daily and disinfected three times per day. Administrative facilities will be cleaned daily and disinfected once a day. Playground equipment will be disinfected at the beginning of the day and between use of individual cohorts.

•  All groups of people gathering in one common space may not exceed the number that is allowed per state guidance. This includes students and adults that are congregating in one space. Common space would be each individual room in a school building, not the entire school building.

•  Physical barriers, such as Plexiglas, should be installed in reception areas and employee workspaces where the environment does not accommodate physical distancing.

•  When necessary, hallways should be one-way and clearly marked as such. When this isn’t possible, students and staff must maintain physical distancing of six feet while moving through hallways and other common areas of the building. Elementary students will maintain at least three feet of physical distancing. Facial coverings must be worn while moving throughout the building. School officials should consider staggering dismissal times from classes to minimize the number of students in the hallways at one time.

•  Students should eat their meals either in their classroom or outside. Barriers should be considered to avoid the transmission of the virus while masks are removed to eat if physical distancing of six feet can’t be maintained.

•  There will be no travel abroad and local field trips will be kept to a minimum, Burrows said.

•  Students should be encouraged to maintain six feet social distancing while at recess. Students may play group games where they get closer than six feet, but must wear a facial covering while doing so. Students must practice hand hygiene before and after recess and all materials used at recess (balls, etc.) must be sanitized after use. School officials should consider staggering recess times.

Schools are being encouraged to hold classes outdoors whenever possible during the pandemic, Burrows noted. He said state guidance remains “vague” on the number of students that will be allowed per classrooms. Classrooms should be set up in a way that allows the requisite six feet between students in grades six through 12, and three to six feet between the younger students, Burrows noted.

“It also depends on the size of the classroom,” Burrows explained. “All of our classrooms are of different size. One of the main reasons we’re starting in hybrid is to be able to physically distance, to also get our feet under us and assess things so we can make the right decisions ... to determine what our next step is.”

PHYSICAL SPACE

In the meantime, maintenance staff have removed from classrooms all furniture made with fabric, in order to facilitate disinfecting procedures.

Officials have also been shifting desks and chairs around the classrooms in order to comply with social distancing guidelines. Plexiglas and plastic shields have been installed at workstations where there’s usually a lot of interaction between people.

“We’re still working on facilities to improve the ability to distance and keep people safe,” Burrows said. “We have been able to get a lot of the supplies we’ve needed, which is a bit surprising; we thought it would be a challenge with so many districts needing the same things right now. We’re well on our way to being ready for Sept. 8.”

Addison Central leaders are still getting a handle on how many district families will opt for a 100% distance learning setup, or who have decided to homeschool during the pandemic.

“We don’t think it will be a significant number,” said Burrows, who added the Legislature has plans to hold districts harmless from per-pupil state aid losses that would normally arise when local students opt for homeschooling.

There will be no COVID testing kits on site.

“We’ll be working with Porter Hospital and others,” Burrows said. “We’ll be prepared when we need to do that.”

District officials are confident students, teachers and staff will adapt to the on-campus pandemic rules.

“I think we’ve all been living through a lot of stress and anxiety during the pandemic, and the message I’m sharing with the community is that we need to work together and we can’t expect things are going to return to any kind of ‘normal,’ or any kind of consistency, for a period of time given how changeable we’re seeing the school landscape and the health landscape across the country,” Burrows said. “The more we can be ‘in the moment’ working to problem-solve and use the best information that we have and communicate clearly and take care of each other, that’s how we’re going to make this a successful year.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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