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Amid COVID-19 debate, Lincoln School Board discusses options for upcoming school year

The Lincoln School Board discussed different options for how school will proceed for the 2020-2021 school year during their Monday, July 13 meeting.

The board made no final decisions, and the school district continues to develop and evaluate plans in light of the rapidly changing guidelines surrounding COVID-19.

The school sent out a survey to parents to gather information about their wishes for how students might return to school in the fall, including school schedule concerns and sanitizing procedures. The survey received about a 50 percent response rate, according to Superintendent Jennifer Packer.

Nearly 90 percent of parents who responded said they would send their child back to school in August if schools are allowed to open. More than 60 percent said a blended learning environment with some small group work and some online work would be best for their child, if group size limits are in place for school.

The top three selected safety measures parents deemed necessary to feel comfortable sending their child to school were easily accessible hand-washing stations, daily temperature checks of students and staff, and immediate seclusion of any signs of COVID-19.

The school district is also reviewing information provided by the CDC, the Governor's office, and the Office of Public Instruction to decide what opening options will work best for Lincoln students, parents, and teachers and staff. This includes being aware of high-risk teachers and students and allowing necessary time and staffing for sanitizing, as well as other concerns such as the need to close campus and develop procedures for busing and allowing visitors into the building.

The board also discussed liability and insurance concerns, including if the school doesn't follow CDC guidelines exactly. As guidelines and directives are changing quickly, it was noted that this can be difficult to stay on top of. Insurance only covers a small amount for legal fees and costs, said school clerk Carol Williams.

One example of changing requirements is mask-wearing. "It's recommended that the teachers wear masks and the older kids," said Packer at the meeting on Monday. However, by Wednesday, Governor Steve Bullock had issued a new directive requiring masks indoors for ages five and up.

"The Department of Disaster and Emergency Services will be making a bulk purchase of PPE supplies that will be distributed to schools and includes everything from masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies, and no-touch thermometers," said Bullock.

The school has put together a COVID-19 committee, said Packer, which includes a variety of staff in different capacities, including parent representation, high school perspectives, grade school perspectives and sanitizing concerns. Packer noted that the committee is presenting options to the Board, and that the School Board will be the deciding factor.

"Our local schools, our school leaders and our school boards, are making the decisions right now about what's needed," Bullock said during the Wednesday press conference.

The COVID-19 committee has been tasked with developing three different plans for potential reopening. They include a full return to four-day, in-person school for all students, a split schedule where students attend two days in-person and two days online - meaning only 50 percent of students would be in the school at a time, and a fully online schedule.

"Right now... we want to bring all the kids back and (are) working on how we can social distance, how we can do the lunches, how we can check in," said Packer. "When I've done some of the scheduling, I've tried to split some of the larger classes. We've done a lot of prep work to get all the kids here."

Other concerns board members brought up included the availability of daycare if students didn't attend in-person all four days of the week, how to provide structured recess for younger students, and parental support for the school in implementing guidelines.

Lincoln Schools' effort to plan for the upcoming school reflect the reality for schools across the state. "Our schools along with our teachers, administrators, and parents are tackling so much in preparation of hoping that our students can return to some normalcy or at least a new normalcy this fall," Bullock said. "Things will certainly look a lot different in the hallways and classrooms, but health and safety has to remain that top priority. And while we're way off in determining what things will look like in the fall, it's in the best interests of everyone that we start prepping now."


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