HANNIBAL | When the 2020-21 school year begins in Hannibal on Aug. 26 new coronavirus-related guidelines will be in place. The Hannibal Board of Education unanimously approved the regulations during its Wednesday night meeting at the Early Childhood Center.
After being given permission in June to bring students back into school buildings this fall, Superintendent Susan Johnson set out to draft a return to school guidance plan.
“I knew that we needed to build a plan that was feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs and context of our community while keeping our kids and staff as safe as possible,” she said. “In developing this plan the primary focus was on figuring out a way to educate our children, and if we can educate them in person, we have got to try.”
Johnson's mission proved to be a formidable challenge.
“This is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I'm not kidding about that,” she told the school board.
One of Johnson's major challenges was addressing every parent's expectations.
“Ultimately parents are going to need to determine what they want their child's education to look like,” she said. “If they are not comfortable with the accommodations that we can implement in our schools then we will need to provide an alternative virtual option for them, and we will do just that.”
Johnson used a plan from a St. Louis school district as a template.
“I really liked the way it was set up,” she said. “They really incorporated a lot of health care providers and I think that is important. It is also categorized into what schools must do and what schools may do. I like that because since March 12, which was the last day we had students walking the halls of our schools, a lot has changed.”
Johnson advised the school board that the plan she was submitting to it had been shared with and approved by the Marion County Health Department.
In addition to the local health department, Johnson's plan features survey data from district families and school district staff members. Also included were suggestions from the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Johnson stressed that the plan is not written in stone.
“As health experts learn more about COVID-19, this plan will likely evolve to better prevent the spread of this virus,” she said.
The plan will rely in part on social distancing.
“Social distancing of at least 6 feet remains one of the best preventative measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Johnson said. “It is recognized that this cannot be accomplished at all times, and distancing of at least 3 feet has been shown to reduce infections.”
A health screening protocol will be implemented for staff and students before they report to work or school.
Those who are ill will be urged to stay home.
“We have a culture of working or going to school when sick, and we need to change that culture by encouraging staff and students to stay home when sick. This message should be clearly sent to staff, parents and students,” said Johnson, who added that perfect attendance awards for staff and students will be eliminated.
Staff members will be required to wear a face mask or face shield when within 6 feet of another individual. As for students, youngsters over the age of 9 will be encouraged to wear a face mask when there are circumstances that put them in “close” areas.
All students will be required to wear a face mask while being transported on a bus if they are sitting in the same seat as a non-family member.
The Marion County Health Department suggests that if over 5% of the student body in a building or district tests positive any day, 4% tests positive over two days in a row or 3% tests positive for three days in a row, then the building or the entire district will close for 10 days.
In the event a person diagnosed with COVID- 19 is determined to have been in a building and poses a risk to the staff or students, a school may close for one to two days for cleaning and disinfection of the building or an exposed area.
Parents will play a key role in the plan's success. They may be asked to screen their children before sending them to school. That would entail checking for a temperature of 100 degrees or above or a wet cough.
Parents will also be encouraged to transport their students to and from school.
The plan drew praise Wednesday night from district patrons and school board members.
Local businessman, Randy Park, called it a “well thought out plan.”
Mark Bross, school board president, expressed appreciation for the “hours of hard work” that went into the plan's creation.
School board member Blane Mundle, who participated in the mid-week meeting virtually, said the plan was “outstanding.”
Parent Chris Hull praised the plan for the “common sense” it features.