Panhandle Makes Plans To Reopen

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There are still a lot of questions hanging over the 2020-2021 school year, but the Panhandle School District Board of Education worked to answer some of those questions during their meeting on Monday, July 20.

The discussion started early in the meeting with tentative approval of the 2020-2021 school calendar. Superintendent Aaron Hopper said that the calendar wasn’t ready to be submitted to the Regional Office of Education, due to some pending additions.

Hopper did say that there would be teacher in-service days planned for Aug 13 and 14, with a regional institute day on Aug. 17. 

He added that a remote learning planning day was set for Aug. 18 to give the teachers a day of practice for e-learning possibilities in the present and future.

The first day of student attendance will be Aug. 19, with students also in house on Aug. 20. Friday, Aug. 21, will be an e-learning day for the district, with Hopper saying the district could make each Friday up to the Christmas break an e-learning day if the district goes to a blended option for learning. He said at least in the early going, the calendar will need to be fluid and could be amended every month.

Hopper said that for now, the district is offering two different plans, both of which would last from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

The early dismissal allows teachers, administrators and staff to prepare for the next day of learning, both in lesson plans and in sanitizing the school the best they can against COVID-19.

Hopper said students will have the option of in person learning or fully learning online with live instruction. Differing from the fourth quarter of the last school year, grading and attendance will matter this year. 

After nine weeks, students who have chosen full online learning will have the opportunity to switch to in-person learning or continue online for the entire first semester.

For in person learning, temperature checks will be conducted entering the building (students with a temperature of 100.4 or over will not be permitted inside) and students are required to be fever free for 72 hours before returning to class. Students may enter the building as early as 7:30 a.m.

Students who ride busses will have assigned seats and must weark masks. Bus transportation will be limited to one pick-up and one drop-off location for in-person learning.

Breakfast will also look different, restricting it to a grab and go option, as will lunch, which Hopper said is still being worked on. He said that the district has considered utilizing the gym and outside space, with smaller groups of students going at different times. 

Hopper said that students will only be given one option for lunch as well, with no ala carte options this year, and are required to stay six feet apart and only eat with their own grade level. Students are encouraged to bring a clear water bottle to school each day and will be allowed to refill it as needed.

Hopper said that lockers and locker rooms also won’t be used and the district will be moving to a block schedule (even classes two days, odd classes two days, rotating on fifth day) instead of an eight hour day to limit movement throughout the building.

Board member Linda Brown asked if the students who opted for e-learning would be watching the teach in person. Hopper said that the goal is to use co-teaching as an option, through technology like Webex, Screen Share and Zoom. He said that the district is looking at bluetooth lapel microphones for teachers as well.

Hopper said that the district has also considered utilizing a system where the teachers could record their lesson, giving students the option to watch it or review it later on. Brown said that previously she recorded her classes using smartboards, which also might be an option.

Ultimately, Hopper said that the district is going to try a few different options to see what works bet.

Board member Gabe Pope asked if students are going to be required to maintain six feet of social distance and wear masks. Hopper said that they would try to maintain those guidelines but also stressed the importance of mask breaks for the students.

Board president Terri Payne asked about PE, since locker rooms wouldn’t be used. Hopper said that there had been a lot of debate about PE at the state level, but no answers yet. He said that students may go outside when possible or do activities utilizing small spaces, but wouldn’t be able to change into PE clothes.

Pope asked about the district going to a hybrid model of students going in person and e-learning at home. Hopper said they have that plan too, but were not planning on implementing it district wide at this time. He said it may be a better option for some groups as time goes on.

Board member Brett Slightom asked about the before and after school programs. Hopper said that for the time being, they are not doing those programs, but the district planned to use those employees in a different fashiion.

Slightom also asked about backpacks being able to be taken from class to class. Hopper said that was correct and with the block schedule and one-to-one program, he believed there would be fewer books to carry. Board member Dana Pitchford asked why lockers were not being used. Principal Schuster said that with the close proximity of the lockers, social distancing would be next to impossible.

Hopper added that the district is still working on figuring out new ways to learn and helping kids succeed, utilizing the RTI tools, data and the district’s fantastic staff. He added that if anyone had any questions regarding the plan, they are welcome to contact the district office.

In information provided by the district, schools in Illinois must require use of appropriate personal protective equipment (including face coverings, prohibit more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space, require social distanced be observed as much as possible, reqquire that schools conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks that individuals self-certify that they are free of symptoms before entering school buildings and require and increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.

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