USD 232 releases draft version of on-site learning guidelines for 2020-21 school year

The USD 232 school district on Monday afternoon released a final draft version of its learning guidelines for the coming school year. The major change from last week's draft version is that students will be required to have their temperatures taken by staff when they enter the building, in addition to the already required health screening. File photo.

The USD 232 school district is preparing guidelines for in-person learning for the 2020-21 academic year.

The USD 232 Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a draft of the learning plan for the school year. Titled “Coming Back Together: USD 232 Learning Guidelines for 2020-21,” the document creates a framework for on-site learning, remote learning and a hybrid model that would allow some students to learn on site and others to learn remotely.

District administrators expect the Kansas State Board of Education will take action on guidelines and regulations on Wednesday for opening schools this fall. Upon release of those state guidelines, the school district plans to distribute a final version of learning guidelines to families on Thursday.

Superintendent Frank Harwood said the school board is not deciding whether students will learn on site or remotely. Rather, the board’s decision acknowledges the fluid situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and allows the district to modify learning guidelines as needed.

The district is also exploring an optional remote learning program for families who are uncomfortable bringing their students to school.

Superintendent Frank Harwood said the plan creates a framework for on-site and remote learning as well as a hybrid model where some students are at school while others are off site.

The school board’s approval included amendments that provide context for the mask mandate as well as wiggle room for the district and school board to make changes as needed during the pandemic.

“It was acknowledged throughout the evening that the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and schools continues to evolve,” said Alvie Cater, district spokesperson. “So although we have plans to address a number of scenarios, there is no way to have every single detail planned out. That’s where we need the flexibility to make changes.”

School board members stressed the importance of communicating to families that the mandate requiring everyone age 5 and older to wear masks (with exceptions for health conditions) comes from state and Johnson County authorities, and not from the school district.

Cater said some elementary and secondary students may have circumstances where it’s impractical for students to wear masks. For instance, students in speech language classes would need to show their mouths, so face shields or other transparent barriers would be more appropriate.

“We have to be cognizant of that, but I think the overriding theme is we are going to do everything we can to mitigate risks surrounding COVID-19 and make sure our classrooms are reasonably safe for everyone involved,” Cater said.  “I think it was recognized that you have individuals who are going to be on different sides of the mask topic. At the end of the day… we are going to do what we can to make sure that classrooms and learning environments are as safe as possible.”

The amended document also allows the superintendent, in consultation with Board President Danielle Heikes, to make changes to the guidelines as needed. Those changes will be communicated to the school board and delayed when possible to allow time for consideration by the rest of the school board.

The school board reviewed and discussed the plan for several hours during a work session and board meeting. Some board members discussed ensuring teachers and students have the capabilities to continue education remotely.

Discussions centered around the following on-site learning guidelines:

  • Requiring barrier face masks and/or face shields for everyone 5 and older, albeit with room for exemptions
  • Social distancing of at least 6 feet whenever possible
  • Allowing time for teachers and students to wash hands regularly, and encouraging personal hygiene
  • Identifying and displaying information on current known symptoms of COVID-19
  • Daily health screenings of staff
  • Training staff to complete visual inspections of students for signs of illness

Here is a link to the draft version of the learning guidelines.