Warren County Public School Superintendent Rob Clayton has recommended that the first day of school be pushed back a week to Aug. 12, he said Wednesday during a Facebook Live question-and-answer session.
Clayton said nothing is official on the calendar because by law it falls under guidance of board members, but he will make the recommendation during the next board meeting July 16.
“The recommendation has changed because we feel that it is important to provide a few additional days up front in the planning and preparation for what is ahead for us,” Clayton said.
The recommendation to move back opening day was one of many topics Clayton and his staff discussed in the 90-minute Q&A segment – with everything from sanitation to possible closures during the school year discussed.
Clayton said the school calendar remains a fluid situation with the coronavirus pandemic still a factor in how the 2020-21 year will take shape.
One new thing Clayton said the county district will consider this year is a possible virtual learning day once a month. This will also be presented to the board July 16.
“I think people realize we are going to be asking far more of our educators as we move into the 2020-21 school year,” Clayton said. “Because of that we feel that it is imperative that we carve out some time. It won’t be enough. We recognize that. But we do feel like having a day set aside each month will benefit the overall teaching and learning.”
Clayton said he has been working with a reopening task force on various ideas, including the choice between in-person classes or a virtual academy that will allow students to take classes online.
Clayton said the hope is to have a detailed plan for parents by July 10 with signups beginning July 13.
“Our commitment is to work with each and every child and their family to try to provide the very best instructional opportunities, learning opportunities that we can,” Clayton said.
While the virtual academy is an option, Clayton said the hope is that most will choose the school option.
“For the vast majority of our students, the best option is being in class,” he said. “We cannot duplicate some of the outstanding efforts that occur in the classroom with a highly effective teacher online.”
Among the things students can expect when they do return to classrooms, Clayton said he doesn’t anticipate field trips or large assemblies happening for the near future and there likely won’t be open houses to start this school year.
Clayton said playgrounds will be used, but the extent will be determined on a school level and that the hope is to offer after-school care, but it is still an evolving situation.
Among other precautions that will be taken in Warren County schools will be a requirement that face masks be worn.
“There are going to be exceptions,” Clayton said. “We need everyone to understand that there are going to be medical exemptions for some students and some staff. Therefore, we need to recognize and understand that not every individual will have a face covering at all times.”
Clayton said a physician will have to authorize no face coverings and the school district will have masks on hand for students on buses and in schools.
He also addressed the need for mask breaks throughout the day. “We are committed to being reasonable in how we approach this situation,” Clayton said. “We are going to mask breaks where our students and our staff have the opportunity to step away from that. It’s permissible, provided we keep a distance of 6 feet or more.”
Warren County schools will remain diligent about hygiene and sanitation with cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day high-touch areas such as doorknobs, door handles, water fountains and restrooms, he said.
“The most important thing we can do is exercise good hygiene and wear a mask,” Clayton said. “We are going to need our parents to partner with us unlike anytime ever before. We’re going to be asking parents to ensure that they have taken the temperature of their child before they get to school.
“ ... It’s just part of what we need to do on behalf of each other as we navigate this challenging time.”
While the school system will do everything possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Clayton conceded there is the possibility of closures at some point during the year.
“I feel fairly confident that we need to position ourselves to expect intermittent closures,” Clayton said. “It is my hope that they are not extended closures, but based on what you are seeing even in nearby states that is something we can reasonably expect.”
He said Warren County could have a closure at one specific school and not across the district.
“Our goal is going to be to provide in-person instruction to as many of our students as possible throughout the school year,” Clayton said. “The contact tracing is going to be critical to that. Obviously we are going to have processes in place where we can narrow down those particular instances. I think it is very possible that we could have a particular school being closed for an intermittent amount of time. I think it is more likely where we may have to do that in a particular classroom, for example.”