ASHLAND – Classes and activities at Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools will look different this fall, but just how different has yet to be determined.
During the Board of Education meeting Monday night, Superintendent Jason Libal told the board that the administration roll out final plans for how the district will deal with the COVID-19 pandemic by late July or early August. The first day of school is Aug. 19.
“I feel good about where we’re at with our plan,” he said. “We’re working with our local health department on getting kids back here Aug. 19.”
Many hours have already been spent working on the plan and the district will continue to gather information to formalize the plan even more, Libal said.
In a letter to parents dated July 14, Libal said the school has formed a Return to School Task Force. This group has been developing the Return to School Plan, which will provide options and guidelines when school resumes, while keeping the health and safety of students, staff and the community in mind.
There are three tiers to the Return to School Plan as listed in the letter. Three Rivers Public Health Department, whose district includes Saunders County, will help identify the level of risk, the letter said.
Tier I is low risk of community spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Students would be in the classrooms and the district would implement enhanced safety precautions. Libal said they are gearing the guidelines to the assumption the community would be at Tier I when school starts. But the entire plan will be flexible so the district can respond to changes, he added.
Tier II is moderate risk of community spread. Students would still be in the classrooms, but the schedule would be modified to accommodate smaller groups attending on alternating days.
Tier III is high risk of community spread. In this case, the administration would close all school buildings and teaching would be done remotely, as was done last spring.
The letter also touched on the issue of wearing face masks. The district will follow Three Rivers’ guidelines for wearing and what constitutes an exemption to wearing a mask.
Libal said they have received some calls from parents about masks.
“We’re continuing to have those conversations,” he said.
Libal said the administration has been working with Three Rivers and the Nebraska Department of Education to develop the plan.
The superintendent said he felt the health department was allowing school districts more latitude to craft their own plans this time around, compared to last spring when the pandemic was just starting.
“It’s a more thoughtful approach,” he said. “They’re looking at each individual community and school district on their own.”
The administration has not surveyed staff to determine their level of comfort with coming back to the classroom, but during a recent Zoom meeting no one indicated they were afraid to return, said Curriculum Director Jill Finkey.
“We took that as a good sign,” she said.
The district has increased its inventory of handheld thermometers, disposable masks and hand sanitizer as preparations for the 2020-2021 school year continue, Libal said.
“We did up our inventory on those things,” he said.
The board approved the staff and student/parent handbooks for 2020-2021. Libal said they will include a statement that says the information in the handbook could change due to the pandemic.