August 13, 2020ASHLAND — The Aug. 4 virtual meeting of the Ashland School Board was devoted almost entirely to the review and adoption of the school opening plan in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Superintendent Mary Moriarty reviewed the plan with the board, explaining the details and answering questions.
Under the plan, parents will have two options, to send their children back to school for in-person learning, or to continue remote learning. The plan seeks to balance the known benefits of in-person learning with the health risks that the virus poses for students and staff. The plan was developed with guidance for the state and health
agencies, and surveys of parents and staff members. 117 families and 26 staff members responded to the surveys. The School Board had met previously to review a draft version of the plan.
The in-person plan has four tiers depending on the activity of the virus in the community. Full physically in-person would have all staff and participating students in the building. Under modified physically in-person. all staff would be in the school, but students would be divided into groups that would spend part of their time in the building and part at home. Under partial remote learning, some of the staff and some students with special needs would be in the building, but most students would be learning remotely. Full remote learning would have all staff and students working remotely. The decision about which tier would normally be made on a monthly basis by the school's
Safety Team, which consists of the School Board Chair (who is also the Fire Chief), the Associate and Interim Principals, the Assistant Superintendent, the Nurse, Office Manager, Facilities Manager, and the Police Chief. When a quick decision is necessary, the Superintendent can make that decision on her own.
Mitigation efforts will be used to keep the virus out of the school facility. Anyone, staff or students, who is ill or has symptoms will have to stay home. Anyone who uses public transportation (not including the school buses), and who has traveled outside of New England, cannot enter the building for two weeks. All are required to wear a cloth face covering or a transparent face shield with drape. The face coverings or shields may be removed outside during a recess if social distancing is maintained. More time will be spent outdoors, so students should be dressed for the weather. Even parents dropping off or picking up their children will be asked to cover their faces. Frequent hand washing will be practiced. Visitors to the school facility will be severely limited.
The buildings will see much increased cleaning with daily cleaning by the custodians using a hydrogen peroxide product, and additional cleanings of high use elements (door handles, restrooms) during the day. Staff and students will clean and sanitize their own work spaces every day. Window fans have been added to classrooms that don't have an air exchange system. Use of the school facilities by outside groups has been suspended until June 30. The one exception will be elections, which are normally held in the school gym.
The school bus is a particular challenge, as the one school bus that ran last year, was full. Families are being asked to transport their children to school or carpool if they can, to reduce the number on the bus. Still, it may be necessary to add a second bus run to reduce the number of passengers. Face masks or shields will be required on the bus. Seats will be assigned. The rear seats will be loaded first and the bus unloaded from the front. The buses will be
cleaned twice a day.
The temperature of staff and students should be taken at home every day. If 100 degrees or more, that person should stay home. Students will generally be kept in separate groups throughout the day. Primary tier, intermediate tier and middle tier students will use different entrances. Each homeroom will have a designated area on the
playground. K-5 students will be separated by homerooms in the cafeteria, where lunch times will be staggered. Dismissal times at the end of the day will also be staggered. (The full text of the plan can be found on the school Web site, aesk8.org.) Interim Principal Steve Guyer pointed out that there were a number of details still to be
There were questions from the public and board members. When asked why the school did not start fully remote, Moriarty noted that Covid-19 infections were quite low in the area. If a student or staff member was infected, the school could be shut down quickly and students moved to remote learning, while the risk to others was assessed. Board members asked about the possible second bus and the cleaners used by schoolchildren. The bus schedule awaits the response of the parents, who must sign up for the year, so the number of students needing bus transportation was not yet known. The students will not be using the more serious cleaners used by the custodians.
Board member Sandra Coleman was concerned about the temperatures being taken at home and not at the school, as is now standard in many public places, particularly medical facilities. She thought that the school staff should take the students' temperatures as they arrive every day. There was some support for her idea. Guyer said that the
administration would look into that suggestion to determine if the school would have the equipment and staff to handle the temperature check every day. In the meantime, he asked the school board to approve the school opening plan so that the staff could get ready to open the school, now planned for Aug. 31. Associate Principal Kelly Avery
explained that the parents would be notified that week of the plan and asked to respond the following week on whether their children would be attending in person or remotely, so that the school administrators could finalize their plans for the school year. The school board voted unanimously to approve the proposed opening plan.
The YouTube meeting was plagued with technical problems, apparently caused by former hurricane Isaias, which was passing through the area that evening. Both the Superintendent and the School Board Chair lost their internet connections and had to rejoin the meeting by telephone. So, after approving the opening plan and voting to pay the bills, the School Board tabled everything else on the agenda and adjourned for the night.