“As of tonight, we are all systems go,” said Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau after presentations from the administrators and nurses of the Litchfield school district to the board of education Monday, Aug. 10.
And while that may change, Dr. Fuerstenau is confident in the district’s plan and the work that the administrators and nurses have put into that plan.
“They have given a tremendous amount of time and effort to this,” Dr. Fuerstenau said before introducing nurses Teresa Hayes and Kendra Kirby.
Hayes, who has been the middle school and high school nurse at Litchfield for the last ten years gave an overview of the plans for the schools, which include special COVID isolation rooms that were set up with the assistance of Building and Grounds Coordinator Bob Witter.
Each building in the district will have one of these isolation rooms, which will allow Hayes and Kirby to assess students with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure. Students in the rooms will maintain six feet of social distancing if there are more than one in at a time and staff will clean the rooms after the student leaves.
Hayes also said that the school nurse office will be a COVID free area and will be used for other medical issues in an effort to keep COVID cases from contaminating other areas. She added that they would be providing teachers with a basic first aid kit to limit trips to the nurse’s office.
To help with contact tracing, secretaries at each school will be keeping track of call-ins and symptoms and seating charts will be implemented for both classrooms and bus routes.
Hayes said that staff will be checking student temperatures at the door for students who walk to school, at the car for students who are brought to school or by bus aides before the student gets on the bus. The district is also encouraging parents to be with their children at the bus stop if possible, in case there is evidence of a high temperature.
Kirby, the elementary school nurse, said that the younger grades are following similar guidelines as the high school and middle school. She would also detail the school nurse algorithm that the district will be using, which was prepared by David Rosen and revised by Kirby to fit the district’s needs.
The algorithm depends on high-risk symptoms (cough, difficulty breathing, loss of taste/smell, fever of 100.4 or greater) and low-risk symptoms (congestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, headache, myalgia), or exposure to a COVID-19 positive person.
With one low-risk symptom and no exposure to a COVID-19 positive person, students are allowed to return to school after symptom resolution.
If a student shows two low-risk symptoms or one high risk symptom, with no exposure, students must be evaluated by a health care provider before returning to school. If the student receives a negative swab result from a COVID-19 test, they are allowed to come back to school 24 hours after a fever subsides and symptoms improve.
If the student’s healthcare provider provides an alternative diagnosis other than COVID-19, the student may return to school 24 hours after a fever subsides and symptoms have improved.
If there is a positive swab for COVID-19, students may return to school 24 hours after fever free and symptoms have improved, typically 10 to 14 days and also have to have a release from their primary care provider.
Kirby said that if students are not evaluated by a healthcare provider or if they have two low-risk or one high-risk symptom, then that student will remain out of school for ten days.
If a student has symptoms and has been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, the student may return to school after 14 days from the last contact with that person, unless symptoms develop. If symptoms develop, the student must obtain a swab.
Kirby also spoke about contract tracing, which will be conducted by the Montgomery County Health Department.
She said that one of the questions she had heard was, if a child is out 14 days, will they be automatically enrolled in remote learn. Kirby said that would be the case, but the student would be able to return to in-person learning later on.
Kirby also listed some things parents can do to help, like obtaining extra masks (masks should be laundered or a new mask should be worn each day), have a thermometer at home, help their child practice taking on and off their mask and have their child bring a reusable water bottle to school to prevent dehydration (water fountains will be turned off). She added that all health documents are still required for students, even if they are learning remotely.
Board member Mark Bloome asked if there was a positive case in a classroom of 15 students, if all 15 would have to be quarantined. Hayes said that if the students had face coverings on, it would just be the students within six feet of the student with the positive test. Without masks (like during lunch), more students may be affected and the nurses would be in contact with the Montgomery County Health Department.
Board member Gregg Hires encouraged parents to use common sense and take temperature checks at home before trying to put their children on a bus or taking them to school. He would also ask about the letters regarding missed days that usually go out for students who have been absent seven days or more.
Dr. Fuerstenau said they would not be doing the letters, because those students would be able to remote learn in the event of an absence. Curriculum Director Jennifer Thompson said that students must log in to the remote learning program in order to receive attendance credit for that day.
Board member Ron Anglin asked if the staff members doing temperature checks would have full isolation gowns and shields on during the checks. Hayes said the staff members would be using contact free thermometers and masks and gloves, but could have extra personal protective equipment if they wanted.
Dr. Fuerstenau encouraged families to do their due diligence at home and reiterated that if parents and community members want in-person learning, it is up to them to make that happen through use of social distancing and masks. He added that if ten percent of the student population tests positive for COVID-19, the school will have to go to all remote learning, citing that St. Clair County has already decided to go this route.
Dr. Fuerstenau said the district will also be calling in some substitute nurses for the first three weeks of school to help with the start of the school year.
Before finishing up their presentation, Hayes and Kirby encouraged parents to make sure they have their emergency contacts, saying that parents can contact the main office to do so.
The second part of the meeting focused on the breakdown of students in each class in the district. Dr. Fuerstenau said that the administrators tried to make the classes balanced, while still taking siblings and other factors into account.
Principal Adam Favre would present the Pre K and Madison Park statistics, with all classes in Cohort A and Cohort B having fewer than ten students at this point. Favre added that while he hopes that they are not still learning under a pandemic next year, the district may do registration differently if they are.
Hires asked about remote learning for the younger students, saying that the easier they can make it for the parents, the better.
Favre said that students would be using Google Classroom once again and that last year was kind of a test run, which showed some good things. He added that remote learning students will also receive written materials and support and that teachers are working together to develop shared lesson plans.
Favre added that some expected kindergartners have not registered, but there are a number of factors involved with that (moving, decided not to go to kindergarten, homeschooling).
At Colt and Russell elementary schools, Principal Jeremy Heigert said that there is an unbalance between Cohort A and Cohort B in some classes due to accommodating for siblings, but those classes with fewer students will be the ones who receive students who may move in.
Heigert said that classes at second, fourth and fifth grade have no more than ten students per cohort, while third grade has two cohorts with 11 students, the maximum that the district will go at that level. He added that only a small percentage of students have not registered at this time.
Litchfield Middle School Principal Russell Tepen said that 74 percent of his students are hybrid learners, with 24 percent learning remotely and only four who have not registered. Class size at the junior high ranges between six to 11 students, with the 11 a pre-Algebra group they wanted to keep together.
Dr. Fuerstenau presented for the high school and said that 72 percent of the students chose the hybrid option, with 120 remote learners. He said that they are still working on some adjustments for PE classes, but most classes are in the eight to 12 student range.
Dr. Fuerstenau said that seating charts will be implemented at all levels (for athletic busses as well) and masks will be required in the halls, which will be marked with directional arrows. He also said that rest rooms will be cleaned after each passing period and that teachers have removed items from their classrooms to accommodate for social distancing.
Dr. Fuerstenau said that unless a student moves in, the in-person and remote learning numbers are locked in, saying if a parent did not respond when they were contacted, their child will be a remote learner. He did say if a hybrid student wanted to switch to remote learning, that could be done, just not the other way around.
He noted that vocational/CTE students will have to be in attendance in order to get credit, even if they do other classes remotely, due to the hands on nature of the classes.
The floor was then opened for the public in attendance and board members to ask questions.
Sara Zumwalt questioned the change on the vocational classes, saying she was told remote students were not able to do the classes. Dr. Fuerstenau said that it was a requirement that changed after talking to Lincoln Land Community College.
Zumwalt also asked about the clear backpacks that would be provided and if students could use regular backpacks if they had not received one. Dr. Fuerstenau said that was the case and they hoped to have more of the clear backpacks in soon.
School board president Julie Abel asked Dr. Fuerstenau to explain the change to clear backpacks. He said that usually the district does not allow the use of backpacks to be brought to class, but they are now because they are not using lockers to cut down on traffic in hallways.
Dr. Fuerstenau said that the clear backpacks are a safety precaution and allow teachers and staff the ability to see in the bags and prevents students from bringing in items they shouldn’t.
Hires, who wasn’t at the meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5, had several questions for Dr. Fuerstenau.
Hires asked if a student has a discipline issue and was sent home, would the student be able to do remote learning? Dr. Fuerstenau said they would be automatically enrolled and that the school wouldn’t be doing in-school suspensions.
Hires also asked about return requirements for staff members. Dr. Fuerstenau said the staff would be in their buildings on Wednesday to meet with him and the district nurses. Each staff member will go through a health check and teachers will prepare for both hybrid and remote learning in preparation for Monday.
Hires also asked about a quote in Monday’s newspaper that said two students would be an outbreak. Dr. Fuerstenau said that if two students both tested positive, the school would have to be diligent and that a number of students would be impacted, especially at the high school level. He added that the threshold of 10 percent to shut the school down was correct though.
Hires asked if Litchfield had a great opening with no COVID positive students, could students go back to in-person learning four or five days a week. Dr. Fuerstenau said that they will constantly be evaluating things and if trends were right, it was possible, but not expected.
Hires asked if the district goes remote, if all extra curricular activities are cancelled. Dr. Fuerstenau said that they will follow the guidelines and see what happens, but cited the Big Ten’s decision to postpone football season as a sign that athletics may not be possible.
In regards to custodial staff, Hires asked if any addition staff was needed. Dr. Fuerstenau said that he believed that the staff was adequate, with the high school activities custodian also being used. He added that each building has an electrostatic sprayer for its use.
Hires asked for clarification on Friday classes. Dr. Fuerstenau said students need to check in on Fridays as well and teachers may be posting assignments or lessons on Fridays.
Board member Mike Fleming asked if the students would need IDs for building access. Tepen said that the district is planning to use last years ID photos for the new IDs, with Dr. Fuerstenau adding that a new camera system was also installed as an added security measure.
With no further questions, the meeting was adjourned at 7:21 p.m. President Abel would once again thank the nurses and the administrators for their hard work and encouraged them to let the board know how they can support them.