Although plans could change at any moment for any of the institutions, the Watertown area’s parochial schools have a variety of approaches to how they want to reopen, despite COVID-19, and all involve heavy use of masks.
Educators and administrators from the schools worked in consultation with officials from around the City of Watertown, Jefferson County, Dodge County and the state, as they put together the plans they felt were best for their students, teachers, support staff, parents and families.
Good Shepherd Lutheran School is among many seats of religiously based learning that is planning to begin the 2020-2021 school year with students and teachers working face to face, with a lengthy list of safety measures in place. After a few weeks of this, however, Good Shepherd expects to go all virtual.
According to school officials, they want to begin face to face so they can teach children how to learn better virtually.
Lebanon Lutheran School is going to begin by working with everyone attending face to face, with safety measures in place. All will be wearing masks.
Sanitizing and scheduling to allow students to socially distance will be part of the Lebanon Lutheran program. All CDC and health department guidelines will be in place.
The school teaches approximately 75 children in 4K through eighth grade and there will be size limits on classes to allow for social distancing, according to Administrative Assistant Lynn Block.
Watertown Catholic Schools at the St. Henry Campus and St. Bernard Campus will open Sept. 1 and will be operating face to face, with masks required and numerous other safety precautions.
According to Principal Sherry Harms, the documents that apply to her schools, may also change based on practicality.
“We are trying to take parental input, health regulations, and the safety and the well being of our school families into consideration when making our plan,” Harms said. “Like in the spring, we ask for patience and understanding as things change and school begins.”
Harms discussed distancing of students, saying, in classrooms, students will be spaced as room allows.
“In the hallway, everyone will move like cars travel on the road. The hallway will be marked with travel patterns,” Harms said.
No more than two students will be allowed in the bathroom at one time.
“We will have three students to a table in the cafeteria,” she said. “Students will not be allowed to share or trade lunch items. We will still offer recess in smaller groupings. Students will need to keep distance when playing outside. In church, students will be spaced six feet apart and sitting every other pew.”
Increased hygiene and sanitation are major parts of the reopening programs of each of the schools. Harms, however, offered a disclaimer in her school’s plan.
“While we think these are the best plans at the time of publishing our response to COVID-19, please know and expect they will change,” she said. “We may think something will work in the classrooms, or at school, only to find it may change once students are back in our buildings.”
She said if a positive case of COVID were to happen at Watertown Catholic Schools, she and her colleagues will work closely with the Watertown Health Department to determine an appropriate course of action.
“If an outbreak would occur — think the influenza outbreak we had in January of 2020 — we would consult with the Watertown Health Department on how to proceed,” she said.
Influenza hospitalizations were up in the area and state overall in January, and parts of Jefferson County were within the area of the state marking “high levels” of influenza as of Jan. 4, Division of Public Health information indicated.
Amy Gromowski, principal at Good Shepherd Lutheran School, said her institution will begin classes Aug. 24 at 8 a.m. and classes will be conducted face to face.
Addressing the face to face opening, Gromowski said, “At this time, with no other mandates in place for our school from either the State of Wisconsin or the Watertown Health Department, we are still planning for a return to school with face to face instruction at full capacity. With the new mandate from Gov. Tony Evers, all students ages five and older will be required to wear a mask while in the building. We are still requiring that everyone wear one during drop-off and pick-up times, but will be sure to give the students ‘mask breaks’ outside during the day.”
Gromowski urged parents to continue to think about how their family will manage if the school is forced to go to virtual learning, or if a child is quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.
“This is something that can, and most likely will happen, with very little notice at some point during the school year,” she said. “Here are some ideas to consider now. Do you have a grandparent, relative, friend or neighbor that could watch kids and help with virtual learning while you are at work? Work together with other families in your child’s respective grade to form ‘learning pods.’ Perhaps two to three families may wish to trade off watching each other’s children to help parents continue to work normal schedules.”
Phil Gustafson, principal at Trinity-St. Luke’s Lutheran School in Watertown, said his school is planning face to face instruction five days per week starting Aug. 26.
“Our reopening plan has been reviewed by the Watertown Health Department,” he said. “We have many safety strategies in place this year so we can reopen in person. It is our number one priority to offer a safe learning environment, so we can continue to provide a quality spiritual, social, emotional and educational experience for all students.”
Other parochial schools in the area were meeting late this week to finalize their plans.
Gromowski likely summed up the feelings of all parochial school educators when she closed her letter to parents, saying, “Thank you again for all your patience, support, and understanding as we head into an unusual year. I truly can’t wait to see all the kids again on the 24th, even if they are wearing masks.”