CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield Area School District plans for students to return to school on time, Aug. 26, despite the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
On Monday night, the school board approved the district’s Health and Safety Plan to reopen its elementary and junior/senior high school campuses for 2020-21.
It also authorized Superintendent Terry Struble to bring the plan up to date as the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education release new guidance.
The district plans to implement a number of measures to help protect the health and safety of its students, faculty and staff, according to Struble.
He said staff and students must wear a face mask at all times when they’re not able to be at least six feet apart from others, or while they are eating or drinking.
The district will provide two cloth face masks for every staff person, and will have a supply of disposable masks available for students who may have lost or misplaced their own.
Students and staff who are at higher risk for severe illness should discuss concerns with their school nurse, and in turn the school administration, and if appropriate, accommodations will be made.
Classroom and learning spaces will be organized in rows with students facing in the same direction. Efforts will also be made to reduce furnishings to allow for more space per student.
Students in grades 4-12 will be issued laptops to limit their contact with multiple keyboards throughout the day. K-3 students will be issued a device, but it will be strictly for in-school learning.
Larger instructional spaces, like libraries and auditoriums, unused classrooms and outdoor spaces will also be utilized when it’s both appropriate and safe.
Cafeteria space will be expanded to use gym spaces for dining. This will allow the schools to limit the number of students in each space and students to spread out at tables.
Struble said other efforts will be made to limit students’ locker use and in turn large gatherings of students outside of classrooms and in hallways.
Outdoor spaces will be used for physical education courses as well as other courses when weather permits and student safety can be maintained.
Handwashing will be emphasized through the day and hand sanitizer will be available in every classroom. Motion sensor faucets will be placed in restrooms to remove an additional contact point.
Water fountains will be restricted, students are encouraged to bring their own water and the district will purchase a supply of water bottles for classrooms, as well.
Struble said bus rosters have been balanced to limit the number of students on each bus. Students will be required to wear face masks, and expected to social distance as much as is feasible.
All school buses and vans will be cleaned and disinfected following each run, and they’ll be “sealed” until the driver begins his or her next run.
Staff and students will be temperature checked upon entry to the schools. Any temperature at or above 100.4 F will require additional screening.
Staff with an elevated temperature will return to their vehicles, notify the offices and await further direction by the school nurse. Students will be “quietly separated” and sent to a safe location.
School staff will be made aware, as will the students, about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 to be alert among themselves and others.
Student activities will be limited to their school schedule as much as possible with a restriction on visitors, field trips, etc., that would expose students or staff to others when it’s not necessary.
Most visitors and volunteers will be strictly limited in coming to school. In addition, they’ll be required to do a self-assessment beforehand and also to have a temperature check.
Struble said the district has always maintained and cleaned its facilities to a high level for school settings, and will continue to due to COVID-19 concerns.
There will also be additional cleaning steps and disinfecting processes in “high-contact” areas and areas of high-student and staff use.
Struble said the district is working on a phased re-opening process due to the number of changes like temperature screenings, cafeteria protocols, etc.
“We may go for a Group A and a Group B start for the first two to three weeks of school,” he said, “and the groups would come on alternating days.
“We would work with 50 percent of our kids at a time, and this would place true emphasis on health and safety. We want to make sure we do this well from the beginning of the year.”
Struble said more information will be released to parents and community stakeholders in the coming days so they can also begin their own preparations well in advance of the new school year.
If Clearfield County would be sent back to the “yellow” phase, Struble said there will be a “blended approach” of in-person and online learning.
“This will be achieved by having grades K-3 attend four days a week (M, T, R, F), as the only students using the elementary school,” he said.
“This will provide optimal distancing between students, as we will be able to spread the classrooms out through the entire school building.
“Grades 4-6 (M, W, F) will attend three days a week at the junior-senior high school, while the remaining grades, 7-8, will attend on Tuesdays and 9-12 on Thursdays.
“This will significantly decrease the number of students present in either building while still trying to provide in-person instruction to help support our online delivery.”
Any day(s) students are not on campus for instruction they will be required to attend classes and complete work in an online setting with their teachers throughout the day.
Struble said the district is trying to identify ways to record or download online sessions for any student who may not have Internet access or who may have bandwidth challenges.
He noted that students with special needs identified through an IEP could be accommodated up to five days a week as appropriate per the student’s IEP.
If Clearfield County would return to the state’s most restrictive “red” phase, Struble said instruction would be done completely online, and K-3 students would be permitted to take devices home.
“Internet is still a concern and bandwidth is a challenge for some homes,” he said, “but teachers would provide much more direct instruction than what we had this past spring.
“In the spring, assignments became optional, we did a graded/not graded system, but moving forward … all work will be expected to be completed and turned in.”
Any parents or guardians who have concerns may contact the district at 814-765-5511 (Ext. 1000, elementary; Ext. 2000, junior/senior high school; and Ext. 6000, district office).