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Brazos Valley districts' plans for new school year include COVID-19 precautions
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Brazos Valley districts' plans for new school year include COVID-19 precautions

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This week, parents throughout the Brazos Valley must decide whether their students will be learning on campus or online at home by way of a survey. For each school district, this decision can be changed between grading periods.

For the majority of districts, that selection will begin the first day of school, but there are a few districts staggering their start or starting school fully remotely.

In Hearne schools, all students will begin the school year online Aug. 17. Once the period of online learning ends — the dates were not specified on the district’s website — the students will begin the mode of instruction selected in the survey.

“As we look ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, together, we have reimagined what learning looks like for our students,” a message from Hearne Superintendent Adrain Johnson reads, noting the decision was made after getting feedback from the community, parents, students and employees and consulting with local health authorities and state officials.

Normangee schools will have a phased-in start to the school year with students beginning either Aug. 12 or Aug. 13, depending on the grade and the instruction method selected.

Aug. 14 will then be a staff development day for Normangee staff to reevaluate transportation needs, cafeteria needs, cleaning and sanitizing, and the overall timing of the school day.

Then, Aug. 17, all students will begin regular instruction based on the mode of instruction selected.

Anderson-Shiro school will spend Aug. 12 and 13 discussing health and safety protocols with students; campuses will send a schedule to parents about which day their child should attend. Then, all students will begin class via their selected mode of instruction Aug. 14.

School boards in Franklin and Snook chose to move the first day of school to Aug. 19.

The College Station school board will meet Thursday to consider moving the first day back to Aug. 18, the original first day of school, to allow employees more time to prepare.

Bryan Superintendent Christie Whitbeck noted during a Brazos County Health District press conference her district could make a calendar change also.

Parents have until two weeks before their child’s first day of school to complete the survey to decide what mode of instruction they want their student to receive for the first grading period.

Masks

All districts have a requirement for employees and visitors to wear a face covering, mask or face shield when in classrooms or common areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. Bus drivers in Brazos Valley school districts also will be required to wear a face mask or covering.

In Hearne, Caldwell, Snook, Iola and Franklin schools, students aged 10 or older — in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order — will be required to wear a face covering or mask on campus and on buses where social distancing is not an option.

In Bryan, Navasota and Anderson-Shiro schools, the mask requirement applies to students in third grade and older.

Normangee set the requirement at fourth grade and noted the requirement does not mean students will be wearing a mask for eight hours. Instead, it would be required only when social distancing is not possible, such as in hallways, in the cafeteria and during small group work.

All students in College Station and Mumford schools, no matter their age or grade level, will be required to wear a face covering or mask.

Students who are not required to wear masks will be encouraged to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.

Instruction

All school districts in Texas must have in-person and at-home online options for parents. Some districts, such as Bryan, Navasota and Caldwell, will have hybrid options for secondary students in which students who are primarily learning online may have some elective courses that meet in person. Some middle and high school courses in College Station will have in-person requirements also.

Students enrolled in the at-home remote learning model at their school district will be required to engage daily to be counted as present, and the 90% attendance requirement will be in place. The traditional grading for students will be the same for on-site and at-home learners.

Any on-campus student who is required to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test or being in close contact with someone who has tested positive will automatically switch to the online model. Then, once they are allowed to return to school based on the district’s protocols, they will return to in-person instruction.

Safety and cleaning protocols

All Brazos Valley school districts have requirements for employees to self-screen and for parents to screen their students for possible COVID-19-related symptoms.

Visitors will be limited to those who are essential or who have an appointment and cannot meet virtually. Visitors will be required to wear a face covering or mask and self-screen for symptoms also.

Each district will have hand sanitizer at the entrance of schools, in classrooms and throughout district facilities for use throughout the day as needed and at designated times. Students participating in on-site instruction will be taught how to wear face masks correctly, the importance of social distancing where able and proper hand-washing techniques.

Classrooms will limit the number of shared supplies, and any shared items will be cleaned between uses. Teachers will have access to cleaning and disinfecting supplies to use as needed throughout the day.

High-touch areas will be sanitized and disinfected throughout the day by campus custodial staff, and campuses will be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day.

Campuses in each district are working also to use classroom and other spaces to keep distance between student desks and tables.

Most school districts also are encouraging students to bring water bottles from home or reusable bottles to fill to limit the use of water fountains.

If a student or employee develops COVID-19 symptoms during the day, then that person will be separated immediately from the rest of the campus population and sent home. The areas highly used by the individual will be disinfected as soon as possible.

Cafeterias

Each district will develop schedules and use other dining areas, such as gyms or classrooms, to limit the number of students in the cafeteria at once.

In most districts, self-serve aspects of the cafeteria will be removed for the 2020-2021 school year. Instead, cafeteria staff — who will wear personal protective equipment — will prepare each student’s tray and hand it to them to take to the cashier. The majority of districts also are implementing a touchless payment system.

Cafeterias and eating areas will be cleaned between breakfast and lunch periods.

Extracurricular activities

Students enrolled in at-home instruction in Bryan, College Station, Caldwell, Franklin and Hearne schools will be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities, such as fine arts and athletics. Students must attend all required in-person practices and rehearsals, and transportation will not be required by the district. 

In Normangee, Anderson-Shiro and Navasota schools, extracurricular participation will be limited to those who are enrolled for on-campus learning.

Transportation

Parents are encouraged to drop off and pick up their students, carpool or walk their child to school to reduce the number of students riding buses.

Bus drivers will wear a face covering or mask, and students required to wear face coverings or masks on campus will be required to do so on buses also.

Students will be asked to use hand sanitizer when getting on and off the bus, and buses will be disinfected between runs in most school districts. All districts will clean the buses and high-touch areas at the end of each day.

In Snook, students will have assigned seating on buses, in cafeterias and classrooms to monitor possible exposure.

Normangee school district’s document explaining the safety protocols notes if students do not wear masks on buses, full-sized buses will only be allowed to carry six students at a time. However, with masks, the buses can carry up to 22 students per run.

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