USD-418 Board wrestles with school reopening decisions

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By Jessie Wagoner

 

The USD-418 Board of Education is exploring options and dates for reopening McPherson Public Schools. The board met Monday evening and heard from educators and administrators on their thoughts regarding reopening. 

At the beginning of the meeting, McPherson Education Association Secretary Rebecca Pflughoeft and Vice-President Erica Shook addressed the board. The organization surveyed district teachers to get their views on reopening. The overall message from teachers is they would like time to prepare in order to ensure schools can reopen as safely as possible. 

In addition to all the changes brought on by COVID-19, the district is also launching a new ELA curriculum, this year. Teachers have many adjustments to make before the start of the school year and still have to safely participate in professional development related to the new curriculum. 

“To sum up, what I kept seeing was, safety first, academics second, time to plan for the what ifs, time to develop plan A, B, C and D,” Pflughoeft said. “We want to develop a plan, acquire the necessary materials and practice the plans before the students return. One statement that really hit it home for me was, ‘I want to be back in the classroom, I want to work with kids face to face, I want my own children to have a regular school experience and a great school year, but I only want that if it can be done safely.’” 

Shook and Pflughoeft pointed out there are some teachers in the district who travel to multiple school buildings each day. Those teachers can come into contact with up to 500 students a day. Teachers still have questions that haven’t been answered, questions about mask policies and how they will be enforced. Questions regarding substitute teachers and if there will be enough substitutes available. They also want clarification on what will happen if they need to quarantine. 

The board asked what date teachers felt would be safe to return and what “safe” meant to them. Shook advised that safety to teachers was the ability to keep everyone in their classroom, protected in a way that they could go home to their own children and families, some who are health compromised and keep them safe. She said a date wasn’t so much of an issue, but the teachers needed clear standards. 

“It’s not so much a date, there is no perfect date,” Shook said. “Knowing that we have a plan in place and we know what the expectations are for us in our classroom so that we can go in and get it done and be ready for kids and be ready to serve them in a way that they deserve to be served as educators and students in this district. That’s what we need.” 

USD-418 Superintendent Shiloh Vincent echoed those sentiments during his presentation to the board of a draft of the districts operational plan. Vincent said the guiding principle of the plan was the safety of students, staff and community members. While education is always a top priority, safety must come first. 

 

In order to ensure safety the operational plan does require masks be worn by all students and staff, as well as anyone entering the school buildings. The plan also requires temperatures be taken each day upon entering the building. The district will provide hand sanitizer and times will be allotted throughout the day for regular hand washing. The district will eliminate extra furniture and cloth covered items from classrooms. Staff will also develop fun and creative alternatives to high-fives, hugs and handshakes to encourage students. 

 

The plan does allow parents two choices for their students, face-to-face learning and remote learning. If a family chooses remote learning, they are required to maintain that decision for a full semester. Those participating in the face-to-face learning are also eligible to participate in the hybrid model of instruction, which will include some face-to-face time and some remote learning. 

 

It is likely all students participating in the face-to-face model of learning will at some point have to do hybrid or remote learning as the school year progresses. As students have to be quarantined or if cases increase in the county students will have to stay home. Hybrid learning will allow them to continue with their studies from home. 

 

“If you choose the face to face model, there is always a chance you could end up in all three at some point in the school year,” Vincent said. “Monitoring of health and wellness is something we need our communities support on. We just need our parents and families to make sure if their kids aren’t feeling well they stay home and that they work with us to help support their children academically, socially and emotionally.” 

 

Parents are encouraged to review the operational plan, which can be found on the USD 418 website at www.mcpherson.com. Additionally, the board will receive public comments on the plan. If you wish to submit comments regarding the reopening plan email reopeningschools@mcpherson.com

 

The board will hold a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to adopt or reject the reopening plan.