Imagine a world where Johnny needs a ride every morning and afternoon to and from Webster Elementary School to alleviate the number of children on the school buses.
And once Johnny arrives at the his elementary school, he must wait for a a teacher or another staff member to takes his temperature. If his temperature is 100 degrees or higher or if Johnny exhibits any symptoms related to COVID-19, he will be escorted to an isolation area to return home. If Johnny’s temperature is normal, he may be allowed to visit his locker at the beginning and end of the school day.
If he grows thirsty before his first class, he won’t need to pull down his face mask to sip from the blubber. He and his classmates are only allowed to fill their water bottles there.
If he needs to talk to his teacher before class begins, it will most likely be through a plastic partition keeping him and his teacher at a safe distance from each other.
These possibilities may became a reality if a draft by Watertown Unified Schools District Administrator Cassandra Schug passes the full school board at its next meeting July 27.
Schug outlined her proposal on reopening schools Tuesday morning before the district’s educational services committee and nearly 130 staff, parents and community members in a virtual setting via a Zoom meeting. She said the district’s goal is to reopen schools Sept. 1 with face-to-face learning for students.
In a Watertown Unified School District meeting held last month, Schug said her district created academic and pandemic planning teams with the first team looking at a single technology platform to support K-5 and 6-12 grades. If there is a COVID-19 outbreak, Schug said then the district needs to prepare its students, families and staff with the flexibility of moving from face-to-face learning to possibly a blended scenario, which is a mix of both face-to-face learning and virtual learning. The third one is a fully virtual option for students.
Dave Vitale, assistant superintendent and director of education services and innovative programs, said Tuesday the Watertown Unified School District is in the same position as other school districts in the state.
“There’s no question we’re in challenging times,” he said. “This is a time to pull together. Everybody is in this same boat. It’s not just Watertown. We will get through it. We have a great team.”
“This draft consists of several broad strokes with many tentacles to it,” she said. “We need to remain flexible. I believe our team will succeed.”
She said if a student or a staff member comes down with COVID-19, the district will work directly with the Watertown Health Department to determine the “appropriate and safe response” for all students and staff.
In the draft, she said desks will be placed 3-6 feet apart from one another; and where 6 feet of physical distance is not able to be maintained, students will be required to wear face coverings at the secondary level of education. If there is a problem with a student wearing a face mask, it will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Schug said for those younger students in elementary schools, face coverings may be “more harmful than beneficial” to the smaller children. However, staff will also be required to wear face masks when they are not 6 feet away from their students. She said face shields will also be available for use by staff.
Schug reported results from surveys given to staff and families on returning to school this fall.
She said out of 188 respondents, 73% of staff reported they are extremely comfortable or somewhat comfortable with having students return to school in the fall. Seven percent reported they were neutral. When the same question was posed to district families, which included 1,411 respondents, 80% of families reported they were somewhat or extremely comfortable with students returning to school this fall. Five percent reported they were neutral. In the survey results from the families, 47% of them had children in grades 9-12, 28% in 6-8 grades and 47% in 4K-5. Whereas 76% of families reported they would prefer a full-day program for students in the fall, only 56% of staff reported they would prefer a full-day program beginning this fall.
When it comes to wearing a mask this fall, 58% of staff reported they are in favor of it, but only 32 percent of families reported they agreed or strongly agreed with face coverings and 13% were neutral.
Schug said another survey was sent out to families and staff Monday.
She stressed her proposal was merely a draft and needed numerous questions answered before the July meeting, but she’s confident her team of teachers and staff will be ready Sept. 1.
“No matter what happens, we will be prepared,” she said. “The Watertown Health Department said we have a strong plan in place with enough safety models in it to remain flexible for students and staff.”