Allamakee Community School District releases plan details for starting the new school year with in-person learning

Following an initial announcement in mid-July of planning to return to in-person learning to start the 2020-2021 school year, the Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) Board of Directors and administration met in a July 29 work session to discuss details and scenarios of the district’s approach to the new school year. That discussion included reviewing such materials as reopening survey results from schools within the Keystone Area Education Agency (AEA) and legal guidance from the district’s law firm of Ahlers & Cooney out of Des Moines in helping formulate the district’s plan to bring students back to the classroom.

The ACSD Learning Plan details were announced early last week, with the complete learning plan for the new school year now being made available to student households and also available on the school district website at www.allamakee.k12.ia.us.

The Allamakee Community School District will begin the school year Monday, August 24 with each building hosting in-person learning in all its classrooms. The district’s learning plan cited guidance from the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Public Health and Allamakee County Public Health in making its decision with reference to the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidance that states “schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being.”

“We recognize that our mission is about more than educating kids,” the ACSD listed in its learning plan. “We are making decisions for the health and well-being of our families, staff and students. With this in mind, we believe the right thing at this point is to continue moving toward having students in school with health protocols and mitigation strategies with a contingent plan for hybrid or remote learning as needed. The community’s ability to slow the spread will be imperative to support the school’s ability to best serve students.”

District officials are aware that this initial plan will have to be flexible and will continue to evolve and adjust as necessary, advising that sometimes adjustments will have to be made with little or no prior warning. The plan states that health and safety, limiting the spread of the virus, social-emotional support and continued academic learning are the district’s priorities in implementing its plan, but officials know that it will take everyone in the community working together to make the plan as successful as possible.

“With community support, we believe that the plan listed below can be a viable learning model that offers the least restrictions and provides the most normalcy for students and families,” the plan stated. “A community partnership is important to help our students, staff and families stay healthy. It is impossible to write a plan that everyone agrees with. Please recognize that we have put together a plan that we feel works for the greatest number of students.”

In support of its in-person learning plan to start the school year, the ACSD is adopting mitigation strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19 while keeping in mind the developmental and age appropriateness for its students. The school district will also offer an at-home learning option for families not comfortable sending their children to school for in-person learning, and those arrangements should be made by contacting the student’s building principal. That at-home learning model will utilize Zoom video conferencing or be conducted through ACSD’s SeeSaw and Canvas learning systems for students who have access to internet, or through assignments sent home for those without internet access.

PLAN DETAILS WITHIN SCHOOLS
Following the guidelines that have been put in place from the very beginning of the pandemic, the school district will allow time for frequent hand washing or sanitizing throughout the school day. Likewise, physical distancing of at least six feet will be implemented whenever possible, with classroom desks being appropriately spaced and travel within the hallways being limited to single classrooms at one time within the elementary buildings and including limited access to lockers within the middle school and high school buildings, with those older students being allowed, instead, to carry a backpack.

Students and staff members should all have access to a face covering, an item included on this year’s supply lists throughout the district. Although the wearing of face coverings will not be required, it is being highly encouraged and families are asked to provide students with their own facemasks, as well as launder them as necessary.

Visitors to the school buildings will be required to wear masks, although visitors are only being allowed if deemed absolutely necessary.

Nursing facilities within each school building will be arranged to accommodate separating those who are ill from the rest of the staff and students. Drinking fountains will not be accessible, so students are encouraged to bring their own water bottles, with the district having bottle filling stations operational in each building. In addition to thorough cleaning and sanitizing after each school day, high contact surfaces will be cleaned on multiple occasions each school day.

TRANSPORTATION
Within the more confined spaces for school buses or shuttle vehicles, students will be encouraged to wear face coverings and wash their hands before entering the bus. No food or drink will be allowed to be opened on the bus.

All bus seats will be numbered and students will be assigned seats, with family members being asked to sit together. Those seat assignments will be implemented with physical distancing in mind, with the higher seat backs on buses helping serve as their own barrier. Windows will be open as weather and road conditions allow, with buses being disinfected after each route.

Parents will be required to remain outside of school buildings when picking up or dropping off students after and before school. Parents picking up students for appointments during the school day will need to remain in their vehicles and call the office, and then the student will be sent out.

LUNCH
Lunch will need to be addressed in different approaches at the different school building levels due to scheduling. All students will have ample time to wash their hands before and after eating, and seating will be assigned to keep cohorts together as much as possible. Elementary lunches will be served to classroom groups with students having assigned seating and being spaced three to six feet apart at tables. Middle school and high school lunches will be modified to avoid large crowds and allow for physical distancing.

SCREENING AT HOME
Prior to the start of the school day, families will be responsible for screening students at home, checking for such symptoms as fevers, chills, head and body aches, fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath, sore throat, congestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell. Students experiencing any of these symptoms should be kept at home and their absence reported to the office secretary. Students are required to be fever-free without fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours before returning to school.

Should a student show any of these symptoms at school, precautions will be implemented to protect students and staff, including requiring the ill student to wear a mask and remain in a separated nursing area until they leave the building.
Individuals who test positive for COVID-19, who are waiting for test results, or who have been in close contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 should follow Allamakee County Public Health guidelines requiring self-isolation. The district will work with Public Health for contact tracing in the event of positive case identification within the schools.

PREPARING FOR THE SCHOOL YEAR
Parents can help prepare students for the upcoming school year by having children practice wearing masks prior to the first day of school, as well as discussing physical distancing and teaching child to observe and practice physical distancing.

Students and their families are encouraged to avoid large gatherings and limit travel in order to reduce potential virus exposure. Parents are also encouraged to practice hand washing with their younger students, following the recommendation of washing hands for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water or using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
 

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