Cassville ‘Return to Learn’ plan released

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Three-tier engagement level plan addresses possible changes

The Cassville school district has released a 28-page document dubbed “Return to Learn” describing its reentry plan for the upcoming school year amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, said in a letter to patrons that the goal now is to evaluate, plan and provide the safest opportunity for teachers, staff and students to return to school.

“We are faced with many challenges in life but there are no challenges we cannot overcome together,” he said. “This is and has been no small task. We have engaged teachers, parents, community members, students, health departments, neighboring school districts and a host of medical resources. We understand that questions, concerns, and issues remain, but we truly believe our children need school.

“There is more to school than the 3-Rs; school is learning, social interactions, lunchtime talks, recess play, conversations with friends, athletic events, choir/band concerts, student programs and opportunities to grow as an individual. These are priorities our children need and you have entrusted us to provide those to your family.”

Cassville’s plan centers around a three-tier engagement level system.

Engagement Level 1 is for no community spread and calls for seated school with health precautions. All classes will take place in school buildings, and extra cleaning and safety protocols for staff and students will be followed. Staff and students will be encouraged to follow physical and personal responsibility wellness expectations. There will also be restrictions on parents and visitors in the building.

Engagement Level 2 is for minimal to moderate community spread and calls for seated school instruction with technology support. Staff and students will access buildings and classrooms. Learning will be provided with a technology integration model. Options for seated and remote learning courses will align and be taught in the building with teachers. Current wellness protocols for staff and students will be followed. Visitors will be allowed in buildings by appointment only.

Engagement Level 3 is for substantial community spread and moves the district to remote learning. Students will receive instruction by teachers using remote learning from home and complete assignments by accessing virtual class platforms. All buildings will be closed to students and public.

Movement from Level 1 to Level 2 would be triggered by the spread of COVID-19, cases within the school or guidance from the Barry County Health Department.

Movement from Level 2 to Level 3 would be triggered by an increasing spread of COVID-19 past Level 2’s threshold, multiple cases in school, guidance from the Health Department or insufficient staff to support learning.

Asbill said the district is expecting to enter classes in August at Engagement Level 2.

“We anticipate entering on Level 2 bases on the guidance we have received that it is the safest and has the greatest opportunity for adjustments in the future,” he said. “This is no small task, and we understand everyone has different views. What we want to be our focus is for students to return to school as safely as possible and get to stay there.”

Asbill said the determining factor for moving down a level is a combination of community cases and meeting with the health department.

“[If we wanted to go down a level], we would consult with the health department and say we’re seeing the spread is not increasing, we’ve had minimal or no cases at school, and we would like to go from Level 2 to Level 1,” he said. “At that point, we would expect the health department to say yes, they support it, or no, they don’t support it.”

Safety protocols the district aims to implement include: increased cleaning, sanitation, wellness screening, personal responsibility, physical distancing, personal protection equipment, limited visitor access, remote learning options and procedures for exposure.

The plan lists protocols for each Engagement Level in regards to health services and PPE, arrival and dismissal, transportation, visitors, classroom and recess, cafeterias, and transitions between classes.

Furthermore, the district will require faculty and staff to wear a mask when physical distancing cannot be achieved. The district is recommending, not requiring, that students in grades 6-12 also wear a mask when physical distancing cannot be achieved. However, all students will be required to wear a mask while riding the school bus.

Asbill said the decision regarding masks was made with patrons’ individual rights in mind.

“We have always been respectful of individual families’ rights and beliefs, and we want to get students here and give them as much of a ‘next normal’ experience as possible,” he said. “We want parents to help us do that instead of debating whether it can be achieved or not.”

While masking in the school buildings is optional, masking requirements for school bus riders is more stringent.

“We hope parents provide masks for their bus riders, and if not or they forget, we will provide a disposable mask for the one ride,” Asbill said. “After two or three times in a row, we will talk to the parents about the expectation to wear a mask on the bus. If a student declines to wear a mask, we will not make them, and we are working on seating organization for that scenario. In that case, we will also talk to the parents about the expectation.

“Transportation is a service we provide and not a requirement. And if a student continually does not have a mask or refuses to wear a mask on the bus, the parents will be required to drop off and pick up that student to and from school.”

Regarding the instance of a student showing symptoms while at school, the district has developed a COVID response flow chart.

If a student at school has a fever or uncontrollable cough, he or she will be checked for additional symptoms, like shortness of breath or a sore throat, among others. With no additional symptoms, the student will be dismissed and follow the normal 24-hour fever rule for returning to school. If showing multiple symptoms the student will be dismissed from class and the following steps will occur:

1. Require the student to wear a mask and move him or her to an isolated area six feet away from others and behind a curtain if possible. The district has designated areas in each building to achieve this protocol.

2. Notify parent or guardian of a need for dismissal from the building and guidelines for returning, which include staying home for 7 days since symptom onset and 72 hours without a fever and no use of fever-reducing medications (Tylenol, Acetaminophen, Motrin, Ibuprofen, etc.)

3. Contact nurse in schools where the student has siblings, as needed, for assessment.

4. Notify building principal and building custodian of the need to clean areas where the student was present.

If the district receives official notification from the health department of a student or staff member testing positive, the impacted school or classroom will be closed for cleaning and contact tracing. Those identified as close contacts will not be allowed to return to school until released by the health department.

All buildings will implement protocols to reduce risk. This calls for classrooms to maintain cohort groups. A cohort group is an individual’s personal collection of people who have been in their 6-foot perimeter (these are the people who they usually interact with). Classroom protocols will include assigned seating and other measures to minimize contact.

Large gatherings will also be limited, which may result in: Students reporting to a classroom upon arrival, instead of large gatherings; altered cafeteria procedures; limited attendance and/or guidelines at sporting or other events; concerts and performances in small groups; modified bus loading and unloading procedures; and cancellation or modification of celebrations, meetings, gatherings or assemblies.

Early childhood and preschool students will be selected to attend the half-day programs, with class sizes not to exceed 18. A waiting list will be maintained and class size adjustments may be made in accordance with health department guidelines. Attendance will be monitored and families of students that fail to maintain consistent attendance will be contacted.

In the K-5 grades, Google Classroom will be used for continuous instruction in the event of another wellness break (Engagement Level 3). Grading practices will follow the same format as normal, students will continue to have recess, and students will have access to PE, art, music, media, special education, EL, title and intervention regardless of in-person or online education.

Asbill said the district will follow guidelines as best as possible in regard to playground equipment.

“We have spray disinfectant and will use it on as many surfaces as possible, and some of our approaches with different cohort groups will determine that,” he said. “I don’t know that we will be able to spray every hour of the day, but we want to do as much as we can.”

At the middle school and high school, in-person classes will mirror the teacher’s virtual platform to streamline instruction if the district moves to Engagement Level 3. Teacher assignments may be changed based on enrollment. Emergency requests to ride an alternate bus must be made by 2 p.m.

Grades 6-12 will retain a normal class schedule, but interactions outside the classroom may be altered. Students will remain in groups of about 25-50 peers, with an exception made for band class, and the school will make an effort to assign seats and keep the groups together.

For remote learning, students will be expected to complete all coursework through the designated virtual platform, which will mirror seated classes. Most courses will have Cassville school district teachers, but students may use the Launch/Edgenuity platforms as deemed necessary. Students who use virtual-only learning must do so on a semester-by-semester basis.

Asbill said students wishing to choose the online option should apply with their intent by Aug. 17.

“We will process those applications and follow the protocols to give the best educational opportunity,” he said. “If a family chooses all-virtual classes, we have the application process in place so we can meet with the parents and discuss the significance of that commitment in regards to things like time, internet access, etc.

Asbill said nurses in all buildings will be provided extra PPE, including N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, rubber gloves and sanitizing equipment.

Modifications have also been made to the transportation system in the district. Cassville highly recommends parents and guardians provide their own transportation for students to minimize the number of students on busses.

For those who do ride the bus, the following protocols will be in place:

• Bus drivers and students will be required to wear masks/facial coverings.

• Students are highly encouraged to practice physical distancing while waiting for the bus at their designated bus stop.

• Bus drivers will watch for continued coughing and may request a student sit in a designated area on the bus and offer the student a mask.

• In the case of a student showing symptoms, the bus driver will immediately alert the school administration upon arrival.

• Drivers will sanitize the rail frequently with an EPA approved disinfectant

• When students are loading, the practice will be to load back to front.

• Drivers will sanitize seats between use with an EPA approved disinfectant.

• The front row seats will be used at the discretion of the driver and/or administration.

• Bus drivers will not work if they are sick.

• Drivers will assign seats for all riders to assist the health department for contact tracing.

• Students within the same household (or students who are considered in each other’s stable group) may be assigned seats together or in seats across from, in front of, or behind each other.

• Drivers will limit the number of students per seat to two when possible, but no more than three on regular routes.

• The district will stagger bus loading and unloading to the extent possible.

• If a child refuses to wear a mask, the driver will not force the child to wear a mask.

Events that could trigger a school-wide closure and move to virtual learning include:

• Student absenteeism: When it is not economically prudent to keep the school open.

• Teacher/Staff absenteeism: When the number of staff available to supervise and instruct students drops below what is necessary to maintain a safe learning environment.

• Confirmed case(s) of COVID-19.

• To protect public health and safety: When advised to close by the Governor or state and local health authorities.

• The Superintendent may cancel all activities on district property by outside groups, even if some schools in the district remain open. When a school is closed, activities scheduled at that school, including use by community groups, may be canceled. Activities held at another location that involve students and staff from a closed school may cancel at the discretion of the building principal, in consultation with local health authorities and the school district’s director of nursing.

• Schools may be closed to all staff and students, or just students. If schools are closed only to students, staff members are expected to work regular schedules or use appropriate leave (unless otherwise directed by administration).

The first day of classes is set for Aug. 25. The entire 28-page document with Q&As and addressing more specific details of the “Return to Learn” plan may be found at: www.tinyurl.com/yxoq7zv6.

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