Litchfield Board Hears Reopening Plans

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“Litchfield is not going remote learning this evening,” said Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau at a special meeting of the Litchfield School Board on Wednesday evening, Aug. 5, in the Litchfield Middle School cafeteria. “And social media is not the place to go for your information.”

The board held the special informational meeting to provide a chance for administrators to talk about the “Return to Learn” plan and how it would look in each building. Board members Ron Anglin and Gregg Hires were both on vacation and not present for the meeting.

After three hours of discussion, Dr. Fuerstenau suggested the board hold another informational meeting on Monday evening, Aug. 10, also in the Litchfield Middle School cafeteria, beginning at 6 p.m. Additional reopening information will be provided and there will be a question and answer session.

Board President Julie Abel opened the meeting, as all board members and everyone in attendance were wearing masks. In addition to the board and the administrative team, about four parents attended in person and the meeting was shown via Facebook Live as well.

Dr. Fuerstenau said the district is excited to welcome kids back to campus and they are doing everything they can to ensure student and staff safety. He said they are also monitoring other regional districts, including those in Sangamon County which have become more of a hot spot for virus outbreaks.

“The governor has put them on warning, and we are continuing to monitor counties around us,” Dr. Fuerstenau said. “If indeed the percentage climbs the governor’s threshold, we move back to phase three and we are remote learning. Be aware that we, the citizens determine what happens in our region. This is not a political statement. The governor and medical experts put information out there and if the region exceeds the positivity rate, then it’s we the citizens that brought that on. It’s we the citizens that have an impact on whether schools open. It’s not the governor’s office.”

All of the building reopening plans presented at the meeting are now available on the district’s website. Dr. Fuerstenau added that any parents who have signed up for the hybrid program, which includes in-person learning, may still choose the remote-only option if they do not agree with the guidelines put forth by the district.

“Masks are required, no ifs, ands or buts,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “Every day. Every minute they are inside our buildings.”

He added that two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the district would be considered an outbreak, and the district would then go to all remote learning. 

The in-person hybrid plan includes two cohorts, divided by the parents’ last names. Although a final list of students in each cohort has not yet been finalized, the district is trying to stick to last names A-L going in person on Monday and Wednesday and last names starting with M-Z going in person on Tuesday and Thursday. Fridays will be remote learning for all. The district is making an effort to send siblings, who may have different last names but reside in the same household, to school on the same days. 

Pre-K Through First

Dr. Fuerstenau said the district was very lucky that all 600 of their elementary school students would not be in the same building.

Administrator Adam Favre said their day will open with temperature checks for every student, which will be the case for all district buildings this year. For those students who arrive in cars, they will be checked before exiting the vehicle. Bus students will have their temperatures checked before they enter the bus, and each will have an assigned seat.

They will stagger students coming in and departing the building each day. The school day will run from 7:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and breakfast and lunch will be served in the classrooms. There will be no snacks at this time.

Board member Mark Bloome asked what happens if a student has a temperature about 100.4, and Favre said each building has a quarantine room, where the student can wait until his or her parents come to pick them up. He said they will do things discreetly so as not to embarrass any students.

Favre said their plans this year focus more on guided learning than cooperative learning in past years to limit interaction. They will work with students on resisting the urge to hug, shake hands and share toys and supplies.

“Little kids will not do it perfectly, but we want to do everything we can to keep them safe,” Favre said. “We are happy to have them in our buildings for as long as possible.”

He said they will be working on student evaluations early in the year to see what student needs are. 

All pre-K through fifth grade students will use the Remind app. Kindergarten students will each be issued a Chromebook tablet, and all other students in the district will be issued a Chromebook. Pre-K students will not be issued devices to limit screen time at that age.

Abel asked about the material provided for hybrid learners on remote days, and Favre said it will not just be homework activities, but they will have a chance to interact with teachers online. 

Board member Val Cain asked about whether or not students would be able to take books home from the library, and Favre said not at this time. They will be utilizing a RAZ Kids and RAZ Science programs.

Favre said that water bottles will be allowed and will be filled by adults using proper safety protocols, and hand washing breaks will be taken at least every 60 minutes.

Favre said they have 69 hybrid learners in first grade, 49 hybrid learners in kindergarten and 73 hybrid learners in pre-K.

Cain also asked about students with IEPSs (individualized education plans). Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson said they have been working with the special education team and students who choose hybrid learning will get services in their classroom. They are still working on plans for students with remote-only options as providers will not be able to go to their homes.

At the pre-K level, students will go from 7:45 to 10:15 a.m. or from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Favre said they have lots of room for the kids to spread out and will have very small class sizes. They will be focusing more on independent play this year and have a cleaning station for toys.

All students at the pre-K and elementary levels will have lanyards to hold their masks while they are outside.

“We encourage parents to work with their children about masks,” Favre said. “If it’s not a big deal to mom and dad, then it won’t be a big deal to the kids.”

Second Through Fifth

Colt and Russell Principal Jeremy Heigert said many of the guidelines at Colt and Russell were the same as Madison Park. They will also be using the Remind app.

Madison Park, Colt and Russell will all have purple panther paw stickers on the floor, marked at six feet apart for social distancing. 

Heigert said that special classes, like art, music and technology would be done in the students’ classrooms this year, and physical education would be done outside, weather permitting, with limited equipment.

The water fountains will be closed to students, but they are allowed to bring water bottles. Restrooms will be cleaned several times throughout the day.

Abel asked about hybrid learners on remote days, and Heigert said they will have certain things to work on, and that Fridays would be group reading days online and a chance to re-teach some lessons to students.

Remote-only learners will have access to the same materials and instruction as students in person.

Heigert said in-person learners are 58 in second grade, 71 in third grade, 54 in fourth grade and 56 in fifth grade.

Litchfield Middle School

Many of the middle school guidelines are the same, including masks and daily temperature checks. Principal Dr. Russ Tepen said breakfast and lunch will be grab and go in student classrooms and there will be no physical education lockers so students should dress comfortably.

There will also be no lockers in hallways this year. Students may carry a backpack. They may bring a cell phone, but it must be turned off and left in their backpack.

They may bring water bottles, but the water fountains will be closed.

Hallways are marked for one-way only travel. Students who arrive by car or walk to school should use only the main entrance. Bus students will use the rear entrance.

Dr. Tepen said that if three students arrive together in a vehicle and one of them has a temperature over 100.4 none of them will be allowed in the building. Cain asked about the same scenario with multiple students at a bus stop. Transportation Director Bob Witter said he didn’t have a good answer for that question yet, but they were working with the team of school nurses and the health department.

Middle school students will stay in their own classrooms this year, except for physical education. As of now, they are still working on band and choir programs to ensure consistency with the high school.

All middle school students will use the Clever app, and must log in by 3 p.m. to be counted present for that school day. Clever will allow students access to their teacher’s website, Edgenuity, Google classroom and more. 

They will also offer a staggered dismissal at the end of the day to limit the number of students in the hallway. 

At the middle school, they have 86 hybrid learners in sixth grade, 113 hybrid learners in seventh grade and 98 hybrid learners in eighth grade. 

District-wide there are still a number of undecided families, and the district needs families to select either hybrid or remote learning as soon as possible so they can finalize plans.

Litchfield High School

Dr. Fuerstenau said plans at the high school are much different than the other buildings as students there have six to seven different teachers a day. The district is still working on logistics, like making sure students don’t congregate as they pass in the hallways. 

LHS Principal Doug Hoster said 259 students have selected the hybrid in-person option across four grade levels. He added that the design team, including teachers, worked for two days on their plans and that all safety measures will be enforced.

“We are going to treat these students like the young adults they are and expect them to follow the guidelines,” Hoster said.

In reference to the mandatory masks, Hoster said students would be warned once and then it would be suggested they try remote learning if they don’t want to wear a mask.

Remote-only users will be required to log in each day for attendance and will use the Edgenuity program. They will be able to contact LHS teachers on Fridays if they still need help with that curriculum.

For in-person learners going two days a week, class periods have been shortened to 38 minutes, except for first period which has ten extra minutes. The school day ends at 1 p.m., and students who choose to eat lunch at school may get a “grab and go” option on their way home.

Hoster said that students will not be able to utilize lockers this year, and that textbooks would be limited.

Abel asked Hoster about remote learners on hybrid days and he said it would be at teacher discretion, but most teachers would deliver content on their own.

Cain asked about passing in the hallways and if it would be one way traffic, and Hoster said they are still assessing it. It will be monitored by teachers and adjustments will be made as needed.

Board member Mike Fleming said he felt they needed more leadership at the high school level, calling the spring remote learning a “train wreck.”

“We’ve got teachers that are very capable, and we need to make it the best we can,” Fleming said. “We need to set the standard and deliver high quality education. I cannot stand to see another year wasted. It starts at the top, and you can’t hold people accountable if you don’t set expectations.”

Hoster said that he would not micro-manage his teachers, and that the design team had worked hard to fix some of the mistakes from the spring.

“In times of crisis, you have to micro-manage,” Fleming said. “Step up and lead your team to success. We need great leadership. It’s critical to get off to a good start.”

Dr. Fuerstenau said he was using the term “laser focused,” and felt that district-wide the staff was up to the challenge. Thompson added that more than half the staff had attended training over the summer for remote learning.

Abel said she was a bit concerned by the negative light being put on teachers, and asked them not to be judged on an extreme circumstance in the spring.

“Nothing makes up for daily interaction with teachers and students,” Hoster said. 

Fleming apologized for being passionate, noting he wants all students to get the best education.

“I’m not trying to bash teachers,” he said. “We are blessed to have excellent teachers. My point is just to determine the best practices for remote learning.”

“Those things are routine in our building,” Hoster responded.

Additional Information

Abel asked if there would be training for parents on technology devices being handed out to students. Thompson said they are working on an information sheet for young elementary students.

Abel also asked when families would be notified which cohort their students were in, so they would know which days they would attend. Thompson said they are waiting on a few final families to decide on hybrid or remote learning. Favre added that they are working hard to ensure parents with the last names that start A-L are in cohort A and M-Z is in cohort B. 

Dr. Fuerstenau said building administrators would get that information out to parents as soon as it was available.

Abel also asked if the district was able to provide additional Wi-Fi hotspots, and Thompson said they were continuing to finish that grant, which is due Aug. 14.

Abel asked if the district was providing masks. Witter said he had 7,500 disposable masks available, but noted that many parents would likely send students with masks.

All of the “return to learn” plans are available on the district’s website with additional information for each building.

“We will be following all the safety guidelines this year,” said Dr. Fuerstenau. “If we get a break out, we will not continue to operate. We will also be paying attention to other districts. I commend our staff for all their hard work. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work the best we can.

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