PRAIRIE GROVE — The School District is asking parents to make a decision by July 14 on how they want their children to start school Aug. 13: on-site or online at home.
School officials held a meeting last week at Prairie Grove High School with some parents, teachers and other administrators to discuss plans for the year.
Superintendent Reba Holmes handed out the draft copy of a letter that will be mailed to all parents giving more information about the school year. She asked for feedback from those at the meeting before it is finalized to go out in the mail.
Holmes said the district is asking parents to make a nine-week commitment for either option so schools can plan for instruction, bus transportation and finalize safeguards that will be put in place for students attending school on-site.
Students who attend school will see a day as it was before but with changes in light of the covid-19 virus, Holmes said.
Staff will self-screen their health prior to coming to school, and parents are asked to screen their children before they ride a bus or come to school. A form provided to parents before school starts will have screening questions on it.
Students and staff will be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, which is the recommendation from the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Department of Education, Holmes said.
Students in grades 3-12 would wear masks as appropriate and feasible. Face masks for pre-kindergarten through second grade are recommended and can be worn if manageable.
Students will safely distance from each other as much as possible by six feet and instructors will distance by 12 feet from students when teaching. Social distancing will be used when feasible throughout the school day, at recess, at bus stops and lunch.
Holmes said parents need to understand physical distancing will not be possible in many instances, such as on buses, in the halls and classroom interaction, and students will be strongly encouraged to wear face masks at those times.
Other safety measures will include opportunities for frequent handwashing, the availability of hand sanitizer throughout the school buildings and limited seating in the cafeterias.
Classrooms and offices will be sanitized frequently, following daily, weekly and monthly specifications. Classrooms will have disinfectant, gloves and cleaning cloths for district staff. Playground equipment will be disinfected frequently throughout the day.
Students will be asked to bring their own water bottles and these will be filled at water bottle filling stations. The district has stations now with 12 more to be installed in schools.
Holmes said schools will not have large group gatherings. Parent-teacher conferences will be online. Visitors will not be allowed in the schools and parents will not be able to come in and eat with their children. Each school will provide information to parents on how to check children in and out of school. Arrangements for deliveries will be made ahead of time.
“All traditional things we have done in the past will be on halt for this year,” Holmes said.
The district will run bus routes “as best we can, as normal as possible,” Holmes said.
She said physical distancing will not be possible on buses. Sanitizer will be available on all buses and all students will be encouraged to wear masks. There will be no more than two students to a seat, Holmes said. In some cases, drivers may have double routes.
Holmes said even if the district purchased five or six new buses, it would not have drivers for those buses.
“Bus drivers are not wanting to take a job, even before this,” she said.
Arrival and dismissal times for the school day will be as normal as possible but changes could occur based on how many children are riding buses. Holmes said these also could change if new guidelines are issued by the department of education and the health department.
“We’ll know more about this after we see how many kids will ride the bus,” Holmes told this in the meeting.
Holmes said the district is still getting updates on how extracurricular activities would be handled and guidelines for those activities will go out before school starts.
Holmes said the school will follow the protocol from the Arkansas Department of Health if a student or staff member tests positive for covid-19. Brief closures could happen outside a state shutdown, she said, and a school could close for additional cleaning and sanitizing.
The health department has a new guideline called “probable close contact” and all students and staff in that category would be considered with a positive case. Holmes said the district will do whatever the department of health tells the school to do.
Pete Joenks, assistant superintendent, said students attending school off-site will use a learning management system called Lincoln Learning. Lessons in the platform will have the same sequence as those students who are at school physically.
“It breaks my heart not to have kids in school but their safety is our priority,” Joenks said.
Online school for 2020-21 will be different than last spring when schools closed for on-site instruction because of the new coronavirus, Joenks said, describing online school in the spring similar to “building an airplane as you go along.”
For the 2020-21 year for students at home, attendance will be based on student interaction and completion of assignments and lessons will be graded as required, Joenks said.
Students in second grade through 12th grade will use Lincoln Learning, except Advanced Placement and Pre-AP courses. Prairie Grove teachers will create online opportunities for those courses. Kindergarten and first grade classes will use a platform called Seesaw.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Joenks told those at the meeting about the Lincoln Learning platform. “You can’t mirror exactly the experience at school but I think it gets close to it.”
Lincoln Learning will have everything set up for students, including videos and other resources. Prairie Grove teachers can add to this, but Joenks said the district doesn’t want to create additional pressure on teachers and require them to have a video for every lesson.
He said the district is asking parents to commit to either online or on-site instruction for the nine weeks to help with making instruction plans and any transition. If any students want to switch, the transition will be better if they are able to finish up all their work and activities for that nine weeks and then start with a new nine weeks.
Students at home will be expected to be engaged three to four hours during a school day but this doesn’t have to be all at one time, Joenks said.
He offered some characteristics of a successful online learner and these included being self-motivated, independent learner, computer literate, having proper technology and academically ready. Joenks said a student didn’t have to have all these characteristics right now because they can be learned.
Joenks said the district will be as efficient as possible with its staff. Some teachers may be with students during the day and also available at other times online.
Students attending online will be able to participate in athletics and extra-curricular activities but will be required to follow the same guidelines as those attending school in person.
STILL ASKING QUESTIONS
David Kellogg, assistant superintendent, said parents and teachers are all asking questions school officials have been asking themselves.
“It’s a little fluid and it’s always changing,” Kellogg said about some plans because the health department and education department may issue new guidelines or restrictions that schools must follow.
The draft letter tells parents the district has formulated a plan to provide the best education for students and that the district will continue to monitor the situation and adjust the plan accordingly to create a safe and effective educational environment for all students.
Lynn Kutter may be reached by email at [email protected] .