FAIRFIELD – Fairfield Community School District Superintendent Laurie Noll hosted a townhall meeting over Zoom Thursday, July 30, to review the district’s return-to-learn plan and take questions about it from parents.
Noll said this coming school year will be different from a normal year, and it will be different from the end of the last school year when the pandemic forced the closure of all school buildings and all classes to be taught remotely. Unlike last school year when the online classes were optional and attendance was not taken, attendance will be taken this year, and grades will be given. Students who take courses online will have homework they must complete.
Parents have the option of having their kids take classes in-person or online. Those who choose online learning will be supplied with the necessary electronic devices, either an iPad or Mac Air laptop.
If the number of active COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County reaches a certain point, 15 percent of the population (which means 2,744 cases based on the county’s population of 18,295), the school will switch to a hybrid model where some instruction will be in-person and the rest would be online. If the number of COVID-19 reaches another threshold, 20 percent of the population (which means 3,659 cases), the school will go to fully online instruction. These benchmarks were established last week by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Noll said the county has 13 active COVID-19 cases as of July 30, so it will proceed with in-person instruction as planned.
High school students will follow a block schedule where they have two classes per day, each lasting 2.5 hours (which includes time for breaks), plus a third class at the end of the day during “flex” time that can include band, choir, and advanced placement courses. This will limit the amount of time they spend changing classrooms and walking through the hallways, which will be one-way corridors.
There were questions raised about when students have to wear face coverings. With a few exceptions, kids of all ages will have to wear a face covering of some kind the whole day. Students and staff will have a few different styles of face shields to choose from to wear in the school building, and they will wear their own cloth masks when riding the bus.
The buses will be sanitized with a fine mist approved by the Centers for Disease Control. Students will have assigned seats, and will be assigned to sit with their siblings to avoid unnecessary mingling that might spread germs. Those who do not have siblings on the bus will sit alone.
Noll said the district will schedule “mask breaks” throughout the day where the students can take off their masks for a short time. She added that young children will not be required to wear their masks outside during recess.
The superintendent stressed the importance of washing hands to control the pandemic. Kids are asked to sing the Happy Birthday song twice as they wash their hands, to make sure they’re doing it long enough to thoroughly coat their hands in soap. The district’s principals have set up hand sanitizing stations in each room.
Custodial staff will clean the school with disinfectant each night, and every classroom will be fogged with a disinfectant mist. Not only that, but every bathroom, door handle and handrail will be cleaned every two hours, and table tops will be cleaned between groups. The tops of the hand sanitizers themselves will be cleaned every two hours, too. Noll explained the district couldn’t get the automatic dispensers because they’re sold out and on back order.
The district will not give out awards for perfect attendance this year because it doesn’t want students to come to school when they’re sick in order to get an award.
Another change is that volunteers will not be invited into the building. Noll said this was a tough decision because “We appreciate all that you do, and so many times we cannot do our job without those volunteers and visitors in the classroom that help so much.” Noll said she hopes to be able to change that guideline later in the school year, but the district has to implement now to be on the safe side.