Members of the Hancock County School Board voted Monday to allow students to return to in-person classes five days a week, starting the second week after spring break.
The approved plan was presented by superintendent Kyle Estes, who said that it was vital that students return to a more normal schedule as soon as possible.
On a handout given to the board members, Estes laid out the reasons for his recommendation to change from four days a week back to the traditional five.
“Transitioning to 5 days will be absolutely necessary in the Fall of 2021,” he wrote in the handout. “However, I think it would be beneficial for students, staff, and community to begin that transition this spring.”
“It is without debate that our young people need to be in school!” he wrote.
Returning to a full schedule would require consideration of how things are different for staff right now, and Estes listed some of the ways that the current schedule is taxing personnel.
“Staff have been asked to do more at every turn. Teacher stress is high and this indirectly affects their optimum performance as it would for anyone,” he wrote.
Teachers are reporting to work 45 minutes earlier so students can go straight to classes instead of congregating in the commons area, he said, and they’re taking on new supervisory roles watching students to ensure that they maintain precautions and follow all of the added restrictions.
He laid out four options: return to five days a week the week after spring break, return to five days the second week after spring break, wait to return to five days until May, or remain on four days for the remainder of the year.
His recommendation, which was approved by the board, was to return to full schedule the second week after spring break, beginning April 19.
“It’s a natural tendency that at some point we’re going to return to a normal schedule,” Estes said Wednesday. “I think it’s important that we make that transition before we start back in the fall.”
They’ll continue to wear masks and keep students apart, and although the CDC has lowered social distancing guidelines to three feet, the state still recommends six feet, which Estes said isn’t always possible.
“In classrooms we are not six feet social distancing everywhere. We’re not,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of our students are back, which is another reason why it’s a little bit easier to transition to five day, but in those classrooms we’ve got them spread out as best we can and wearing a mask, but there’s no way to achieve six feet.”
While around 25 percent of students began the year staying home and attending school virtually, those numbers have shifted after schools returned to a four day schedule.
“We are around 10 percent virtual,” he said.
As always with COVID-19, Estes said that circumstances with the community spread could affect whether students stay on the five day schedule or do something else.
“When we returned to four days back last month there was a caveat in there that if the numbers in our community, within our schools, go up significantly then we could potentially revert back to the A/B option that we had in place or even virtual,” he said. “Those things aren’t completely gone.”
“We still have had issues with quarantines,” he said. “We managed an issue with quarantines with one of our food service staffs this week that have caused significant issues.”
“There’s still obstacles and they’re not gone,” he said. “But we’re trying and doing our best to manage those obstacles, monitor the spread of the virus, and return to something closer to normal at the same time.”
By Dave Taylor