Schools in Elbert County set to open for in-person learning

At-risk students can opt for distance approach


Officials with the Elizabeth, Kiowa, Simla and Elbert school districts have been working diligently to come up with a plan that will safely allow students to return to the classroom for in-person learning next month.

After weeks of collaboration that also included the Elbert County Department of Health, officials have developed similar plans that they believe will help keep students safe and maximize learning during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We do a better job of teaching our kids in person. Period,” said Scott Mader, superintendent of Elbert County School District C-2, which includes nearly 250 students in the Kiowa area.

“We want to do everything we can to keep them safe and keep them in school.”

Kelli Thompson, superintendent of Elbert School District #200, which serves nearly 275 students in the Elbert area, said that district is planning for in-person learning with all health protocols in place.

“We are planning for in-person learning, with a backup plan for rolling out to remote learning if an instance occurs where we need to close down portions of the school,” said Thompson.

Douglas Bissonette, superintendent of Elizabeth School District, which serves nearly 2,500 K-12 students, said the district will offer in-person instruction for the vast majority of students.

“Our priority is to take a common-sense and measured approach to meeting the needs of our school community,” said Bissonette.

There are three options for students enrolling in Kiowa or Elbert this fall.

• In-person learning — Students attend school daily for face-to-face instruction. Prevailing public health order protection protocols are in place.

• Remote and in-person learning — All students receive instruction in the buildings, by attending school in cohort groups of reduced size. Instruction is delivered face-to-face and digitally to students, with prevailing public health order protection protocols in place.

• Complete suspension of in-person learning — With few exceptions, all instruction is delivered via distance learning. Under controlled conditions, limited in-person support is available on a scheduled basis as allowable by public health order.

Students who fall into the high-risk category and cannot access school in-person should call their school district to discuss an online-only learning option.

Kiowa and Elbert will be using a green, yellow and red plan, based on COVID-19 activity within the county.

Green status will be considered the closest to normal instructional services, when the county is experiencing low rates of confirmed cases. Green days will include in-person learning. Students will be subject to voluntary home entrance screening, masks will be suggested but not required, students will be separated into smaller “cohort” groups, classrooms will be disinfected daily and transportation will be augmented to observe group size and distancing requirements.

Employees will be required to wear masks when in confined areas with students or adults, and are encouraged to wear protective masks at all times. They will also be required to screen for temperature and any other type of illness prior to going to work. Parents dropping off students will be required to remain in their vehicles, and school staff will check students’ temperatures. Anyone with a temperature of 100.04 or above will not be allowed in the school.

Students will be allowed recess and lunch breaks in assigned areas, and will have structured and controlled access to the library and gym.

The districts will institute yellow days when there is a direct threat to the district or the community, including in the event of an increase in COVID-19 in the community or cases occurring within the school system.

During yellow days, students will still attend school in person, but will be segregated into smaller cohorts and may be required to wear protective masks. Students and staff may also be screened for temperatures throughout the day. Students will receive in-person and supervised distance learning within the school, with classes being divided in two, and students alternating between in-person learning with their teacher, and supervised distance learning with a para-professional in another part of the school.

All staff will be required to wear masks, and if it is determined the facility needs to be disinfected, there may be times and days in which the entire school is utilizing home distance learning, which may occur in one-, two- or four-day increments.

Red days will occur if there is a dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, or the state or the department of health order school districts close. The school district may also choose to close schools as well. During red days, instruction will take place through distance learning.

The Elizabeth district is still finalizing its plan, but officials sent a letter to parents stating they plan to offer in-person learning for all grades, with health protocols in place. If in-person learning is not possible, the district will temporarily transition back to remote learning.

Students and staff will be encouraged to wear face coverings unless six feet of physical distancing can be maintained. Face coverings may be required in specific situations like IEP meetings. Parents will be asked to screen students for fever or COVID-19 symptoms at home before bringing students to school. Schools will increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, and utilizing fans. Assemblies, gatherings, events and activities that do not allow for physical distancing will be minimized.

Steve Wilson, superintendent the Big Sandy 100J District, which serves 335 students in the Simla area, said their plan is still emerging, but they hope to open to in-person learning next month.

“By far the majority of our families really desire in-person learning and getting back to ‘normal,’” said Wilson.

The district will not be utilizing the green, yellow, red model, but will be in communication with parents about changes if COVID-19 cases increase. Students and staff will be encouraged to wear masks, but masks will not be mandatory in cases where social distancing can be safely utilized. One-on-one interactions between students and staff may require facial coverings. Wilson said if social distancing can’t be maintained in a safe manner, the district would revisit the mask requirements.

More information can be found on district websites or Facebook pages.


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