The Seymour R-II School District is prepared and ready for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, which has its first day of classes set for Tuesday, Aug. 25.
There will be seated instruction.
There will regular school days.
There will be regular school weeks.
There will be extracurricular activities, including sports.
And there will be plenty of safety measures taken to protect both the students and staff.
“We’re going to try to make this as normal as possible, if that’s possible,” Superintendent Steve Richards said.
“We realize there’s going to be an adjustment for everyone, both our students and staff. However, we want for there to be a return to normalcy for the simple sake of educating our students. That’s our top priority.”
What’s not required are facemasks.
“Masks certainly are allowed for anyone who wants to wear one, but we aren’t requiring them,” Richards noted.
He said seated instruction doesn’t mean social distancing and safety won’t be a priority.
“Safety will be a top priority,” he explained. “We’ve taken several steps to prepare for the health, wellness and safety for our students and staff. We also realize that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t behind us. And we also realize that our guide for holding classes is a living document, meaning there may be updates with new regulations and rules, if needed.
“We’re making decisions in coordination with local and state guidelines. Right now, we’re in what we describe as Level 2, which is seated school with health precautions.”
In this scenario, which will be in place for the first day of classes on Aug. 25, all classes will take place in Seymour’s school buildings.
Extra cleaning and safety protocols for students and staff will be followed.
There are restrictions on parents, visitors and volunteers in all school buildings.
Richards said parents or guardians who are uncomfortable in sending their children back to school have an option.
That option is virtual learning.
“Remote instruction is available to any student,” he said.
“For those who are looking at this route, versus sending their children back to the classroom, it will be much different than the process used last spring as we finished the past school year. There will be a lot more accountability for our remote learning ... a lot more resemblance to regular classes in terms of students completing their assignments.”
For those who want to utilize the option of remote learning, Richards said that at any time beginning next Monday, parents or guardians can contact respective building counselors to sign up for the program.
“Our counselors in each building, depending on each student’s grade level, can guide you through the process,” he said. “I don’t want for those who are uncomfortable in sending their children back to school to be hesitant about contacting us. We completely understand.”
On the first day of classes later this month, there will be a few changes.
First is the system of dropping off and picking up students at the elementary school.
This impacts students in pre-school classes through the fifth grade.
“There will be a new, more-efficient way for parents to drop off and pick up their children,” Richards said.
“The new way will be quicker, much easier. We just ask that (adults) follow the new rules when they arrive. It won’t be a confusing process.”
Another change is the start time for high-school classes.
Classes at Seymour High School now start at 8:10 a.m., about 10 minutes earlier than the last school year.
Richards said student drop off from buses now begins at the middle and high schools at 7:50 a.m., then the buses will go to the elementary.
“In the past, it was the opposite,” Richards said.
Student, staff safety measures
Richards emphasized that student and staff safety is an issue the district takes seriously.
“The (school) board didn’t just decide to put our students back in seated instruction without first considering all the safety measures we needed to have in place,” he said.
To that end, the district will maintain adequate supplies of personal-protective equipment, soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer and other cleaning materials throughout each school building.
He added that the district will clean frequently touched surfaces and objects — such as tables, water fountains and doorknobs — with cleaning and disinfecting products. Computer-safe disinfectant methods will be used for computers and keyboards.
It doesn’t end there.
The district will encourage “wash in/wash out” guidelines for both students and staff.
“Everyone will be encouraged to wash hands immediately upon arrival at school and again at the conclusion of the day,” Richards explained. “In addition to this procedure, breaks will be provided during the day to both wash and sanitize hands.”
He said social-distancing practices will be followed in each classroom.
Temperatures will be checked when feasible.
“For health and safety concerns, outside visitors, parents and volunteers will have restricted access to school grounds,” Richards said.
“This includes visits during breakfast and lunch.”
Health-service staff will continue to keep a record of all persons seen in each nurse’s office.
Water fountains may be restricted, but water-bottle stations will be available. Richards said all students are encouraged to bring their own water bottle or container.
Most importantly, he said students with any type of virus symptoms should not attend school, and parents should consult their healthcare provider and follow Center of Disease Control (CDC) considerations regarding their eventual return to school.
“For student who are diagnosed with COVID-19, either by a laboratory test or based on their symptoms, return to school will be allowed when the student is at least 10 days from symptom onset, has had three days with no fever and has improved symptoms,” Richards said.
A majority of Seymour’s student body travels to and from school on buses.
There will be changes for students on district buses.
First and foremost is the assigning of seats.
“That will happen for all riders,” Richards said.
He said the buses will be loaded from back to front, and the seating assignment for each bus will be maintained so it can be provided to the Webster County Health Department for contact tracing, if needed.
“Students within the same household or students who are considered in each other’s stable group may be assigned seats together or in seats across from, in front of or behind each other,” he added.
Drivers will limit the number of students per row to four students.
Above that, all school buses will be appropriately disinfected after every use, without exception.
“Our bus drivers have been properly trained in COVID-19 safety measures,” Richards noted.
Changes in food service
For students in the kindergarten through the fifth grade, Richards said breakfast and lunch will be eaten in classrooms or in the cafeteria with reduced capacities.
Sanitizer for hand washing will be available before and after each meal.
In the middle and high schools, grades six through 12, two extra lunch periods have been added to reduce the number of students in the cafeteria for meals.
“For our older students, multiple separate lunch periods may be created and alternate locations, such as an outdoor environment or large indoor spaces, like the gym, may be used for lunches with supervision,” Richards said.
“This is an area we’re monitoring very closely. We want for our students to have healthy meals every day. At the same time, we want to keep them as safe as we can.”
In the school’s classrooms, Richards said multiple social-distancing strategies will be implemented, based on the feasibility of the unique space and needs of each building.
“Students will be spaced as far apart as possible,” he said.
“Six feet apart is best, as we know. When that’s not possible, we will ensure a minimum of 3 feet between students.”
And when on the playgrounds, elementary students again will be monitored for social distancing.
“We will require hand washing with sanitizer upon the students’ entry back into the building,” Richards said.
“The hard surfaces of our frequently used playground equipment will be cleaned routinely.”
Finally, regarding personal-protective equipment, he said the use of personal facemasks will be allowed for students.
Each student will receive two washable facemasks from Webster County.
In addition, the school district will provide two facemasks to each employee.
A water bottle also will be provided to each student as the school’s water fountains will be limited in use for only filling up bottles.
As of Monday, Richards said the Seymour R-II School District plans to continue with all of its extracurricular activities, ranging from clubs to sports.
“The only change or modification as of now has been with the band,” he said. “We still have band, although the comptitions for our marching band have been canceled.”
He said middle- and high-school sports are planned.
For the high school, there will be baseball, softball, cross country and girls’ golf.
For the middle school, there will be cross country, boys’ and girls’ basketball.
“We have full intentions to live stream all sporting events for the middle and high schools,” Richards explained. “The reason for that is so those with health concerns can watch the games live without having to attend.”
Only cross country and girls’ golf won’t be live-streamed.
He added that there may be some places where fans are required to wear a mask.
“For example, if our basketball teams play at Springfield Greenwood, then those fans who attend will have to wear a mask as Springfield has a masking mandate for the entire city as of now,” Richards said. “It’s a good idea for people who travel with our teams to know that in advance.”
The district has a 10-page guide, titled “Seymour Schools COVID-19 2020-21 Plan,” which will be given to all students on the first day of classes.
Parents or guardians who want a copy of the guide can get one at any time from the school’s administration building, located on Business 60 (East Clinton Avenue).