SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Students wearing face coverings seated in desks which are all in a row and facing the same direction.
It’s going to be the look of at least several classrooms in the Sioux Falls School District during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not so easy to achieve that look in an elementary classroom that may not have desks or when the teacher uses soft chairs and other seating during instruction and reading times, said assistant superintendent Jamie Nold.
A classroom with tables will now have plexiglass partition to separate students. Other classrooms will have the forward facing desks.
The rearrangement of classrooms is one of the challenges the school district had to overcome when it planned for in person instruction this fall for the 2020-2021 school year.
Hand washing, social distancing and keeping students within same groups as much as possible are all part of the district’s Return to Learn (RTL) plan of in person instruction. The plan is still a draft and can be revised before final school board approval.
Nold said while all campus buildings in the district will follow the RTL plan, each building will look different because of the structure, floor plan and other factors. Also, the district may move one campus from traditional learning to a blended model because of COVID-19 while other campuses may still be using traditional in person instruction, he said.
In person instruction is called traditional learning, even if it will have different look. The other pieces of the plan are blended models in which students alternate days in the school in two ways.
Students are assigned days based on their last names. Under the first blended plan, 25% of the campus students are in the building at the same time. Under the second blended plan, 50% of the campus students are in the building at the same time.
The third piece is remote learning in which students learn through online and other instruction outside the school building.
The district’s Virtual Academy is an option parents may choose for their students for the 2020-2021 school year, Nold said.
Mask wearing encouraged for staff and students
Under traditional and blended plans, students and staff will be encouraged to wear masks.
Gov. Kristi Noem said on July 28 that she would not require face coverings in schools because it would be difficult for younger children to wear them and touching masks could do more harm than good. Also, the science is mixed on the benefits of mask wearing, she said.
The CDC says on its website that “appropriate and consistent use of cloth face coverings is most important when students, teachers, and staff are indoors and when social distancing of at least 6 feet is difficult to implement or maintain.”
The RTL plan says the school will take breaks from face coverings when social distancing of six feet can be maintained. Also, face coverings will be encouraged in classrooms, while entering and leaving the school, while working in groups and similar activity.
Students are expected to wear face coverings when students are less than six feet apart.
Nold said maintaining social distance of six feet will be difficult in some classrooms.
Roosevelt High School, for example, is crowded because of enrollment, Nold said.
The number of students enrolled in the Virtual Academy will reduce the number of students in classrooms, Nold said. As of July 30, about 6% of the Sioux Falls District enrollment of about 25,000 students will be enrolled in the Virtual Academy, Nold said.
The RTL plan has measures in place to reduce times when students are gathered, he said.
Even the need to “control number of students in restrooms at one time when possible,” is specified in the RLT plan.
Some high school students have entered the buildings as early as 5:30 a.m. to do school work, Nold said.
After work was completed the students would gather in the morning to talk, he said. That can’t happen with COVID-19, he said.
The RTL plan specifies times when students can enter their campus buildings.
Lunch and breakfast periods will also be different under in person instruction and the blended models.
Students will not be serving themselves as meals will be served by staff during traditional school days. But in the middle schools and high schools only individually wrapped items for self-serve, such as salads, sandwiches, fruits, and vegetables used. Otherwise, meals will be served by staff.
The goal for breakfast and lunch is to reduce student numbers as much as possible in one location. Some students may be eating in classrooms.
High school juniors will be allowed to leave campus for lunch along with seniors under the traditional learning plan, Nold said. The decision applies to the upcoming school year as a way to reduce the number of students gathered in the cafeterias, he said.
Under modified plans, the students who are in buildings on assigned days will eat a served meal. Lunches will be delivered at a predetermined site for the students at home. Grab and go pickup meals will also be available.
If the school district moves to the remote learning plan, the district will use a food distribution plan similar to what was used in the spring after all schools closed.
Air quality control
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers issued this statement on July on COVID-19 and HVAC systems: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has referred to ASHRAE on a variety of issues including COVID-19, indoor air quality, natural refrigerants and other topcis.
The RTL plan also addresses the air in the school buildings.
The plan said the district will make sure there is multiple air exchanges prior to staff and activity start times.
The district will double minimum outdoor air settings from the range of 10% to 20% to the range of 20% to 40%. Also, “Continue to operate with CO2 monitors modulating the outside air if greater is needed,” the plan said.
Minimizing touch points for staff and students and having hand sanitizer available is also part of the plan.
One way to minimize touch points is for the teacher to open and close the classroom door when students are entering or leaving, according to the RTL plan.
Nold said school during COVID-19 means collaborative learning, sitting in a reading chair and other ways teachers instruct and students learn in a classroom will be different or may not happen as in the past, this year. The district has also prepared for any moves to blended models or remote learning.
The goal is to “return to normal as soon as possible,” Nold said.
For now, soft chairs and similar classroom equipment can be seen in school hallways as staff prepares for COVID-19 instruction, he said.
The Return to Learn Plan is attached below.