The new year at Triad Community Unit School District #2 that began on Wednesday, August 12 is off to a good start despite COVID-19, according to reports given at the Monday, August 24 board meeting.
Action taken late in the meeting included approving the annual Risk Management Plan (covering financial and legal risks), ratifying the board of education’s tentative one-year contract with the Triad Educational Association after an executive session and discussing next year’s budget, a version of which is now on public display at the central office.
But how the business of having school goes on in an era of COVID-19 restrictions was the subject of the evening.
“The entire district has adapted very well to the new requirements,” said superintendent Leigh Lewis in her report to the board. “Desks are arranged six feet apart, masks must be worn, self-certification is a morning task, hand washing and cleaning are priorities and outside teaching is encouraged when possible. Other important changes have been the elimination of visitors and parents inside the school buildings, class size reductions, co-horting students and a shortened school day.
“The staff continues to be flexible with all the changes and the students continue to be curious, enthusiastic learners,” she said. “Despite the drawbacks of an A/B schedule, the teachers can give more individualized attention to students and speed up the pace of the lessons when there are fewer students in the classroom.”
Not all parents are feeling flexible with her decision to continue the A/B schedule longer than originally planned while some neighboring districts have gone to all-remote learning. And the inconvenience of the hybrid system for working parents makes some wish to see the students come back, full-force, kindergarten through sixth grade to five days a week of in-person learning. Factors influencing Lewis’ decision include information from area pediatricians such as Dr. Staci Young, who spoke at the meeting.
“Children are not the primary spreaders of COVID-19,” Lewis wrote in her report, passing on information from the pediatrician. “When school-aged children get the virus it is typically from a household adult and they most often experience mild cold-like symptoms. A low percentage of school-aged children get the virus and those infected experience mild cold like symptoms.” She said that Young argues that keeping students at home when they should be in school has far greater negative effects on them than going to school – where mitigation strategies are in place – ranging from lack of normal socialization and interaction with others to an increase in child abuse cases and depression. Lewis said it seems Young’s strongest argument for keeping students in school is that schools are essential to the health, safety and well-being of the children
Another factor in keeping in-school classes small and less frequent is the rise of COVID-19 cases in the area, new, stricter government restrictions and the fact that, as of August 21, the district has 100 students in quarantine, according to Lewis, “because a family had experienced something and kept them home or they came to school with the symptoms. So there are a lot of different reasons why we would have them in quarantine.”
According to director of business and communications Mike Raymond on the following day, this does not necessarily mean that those in quarantine have COVID. Only that they may have been exposed to someone who knows someone who does.
Lewis said at the meeting that they’ve also had 21 positive cases from people who did not have contact with any of the students. And for some they actually had to do contact tracing, she said. “It’s a little easier dong that when you have fewer students in the classroom. And you can guarantee with almost 100 percent certainty whether or not a student came into contact with either a teacher or another student. Add more students and we’re not going to be able to do the same thing.” She said it only takes two students to cause an outbreak in an area. That can easily happen, she said.
“So, again, I apologize for changing my mind and interrupting what we thought was potentially going to happen one way and it did happen the other way. And it did interrupt people’s schedules and what they had plans of and so on and so forth. But I don’t have all the answers and we’re just learning as we go. And it’s taken a lot of time trying to figure out what is the best thing to do when they learn that a family or a student or a staff member is positive.”
She said cases and symptoms in the school have been very mild. And reassures the public that she believes that there is no transmission in the buildings. And that a new decision might be coming soon.
“Give us another week or two,” she said, “and see how we are doing.”
More guidelines from the governor while the school is under stricter ones and then bringing in all the kindergarten through sixth grade students could bring up “concerning questions.”
“I guess the question is where are we going from here,” Lewis said. “It is a struggle to know exactly what the best answer is or what the best decision is. There’s no one hundred percent certainly of what exactly we should do to do what’s best for students and I guess families in that district as well as our staff and the list goes on. I will say this. We are doing fabulous with bringing our students to school.” She said there are only eight school districts that are in the area in Region 4 that are having in-person learning. There are 57 that are remote, she said.
“I do think that bringing all the kids back is something that could happen sooner rather than later,” she said,
“While the A/B schedule is working to keep students and staff safe during this time, it has its drawbacks,” she continued. “As soon as the district feels it is safe to have all students back on campus, especially at the K-6 grade levels as originally planned, the district will move to Plan A as outlined in our Return to Learn Plan. When that happens, it is likely that one group (A-K) will start and end the day approximately 20 to 30 minutes before the other group (L-Z) in order to accommodate car traffic at each of the largest buildings. Bus service will remain the same.
“The district will continue to examine all factors that help guide our decisions when it comes to whether or not students should be in-person learning or students should stay at home and learn remotely,” she said.
Triad’s other adjustments
A two-question wellness screening questionnaire for each day of attendance is being used in the Skyward student and parent portals, according to Kennan Fagan, assistant superintendent.
“While this is a new process for parents and students, we have a high expectation of establishing this protocol as part of our return to school safety procedures and have been sending daily reminders to parents and students,” Fagan said. “ Our school nursing staff also as access to student and staff reports for failed and incomplete screenings and have been very supportive in ensuring that this mitigation strategy is being followed. We are hopeful that this screening serves as a daily reminder to students and parents that any symptom is a warning and to help prevent the spread of the virus into our schools.
“Our staff is in communication throughout each school day to ensure that we meet the guidelines for releasing household members (e.g., siblings, parents) who are in attendance,” he said in his report. “This sometimes comes as a surprise to families as they are notified that they have one child who became ill during the school day and that they not only need to pick up one but also any siblings at other schools.”
“Lastly, Triad has an outstanding dedicated workforce of bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, maintenance personnel, secretaries, supervisors, instructional assistants, teachers, therapists and administrators,” Lewis said. “They understand the value of in-person learning over remote learning if it can be accomplished while keeping everyone’s safety the number one priority. Everyone can help us stay safe if our parents, students and staff do their best outside of school to continue to avoid large gatherings, wear a mask, follow distancing guidelines and frequent hand-washing.”
On the computer end of the COVID crisis, Mike Wielgus, director of technology service in the district’s central office, reported that the connection of Skyward and Canvas programs took longer than expected, so he delayed the launch of Canvas. That ensures the two existing programs communicate correctly, he said, and the set up and training of staff will take place in “a timely and effective manner.”
“Canvas is considered one of the leading learning management systems, and we are excited to begin working to implement it with our staff and students,” he said.
According to Wielgus, the district is learning new things every day in its transition to Skyward. In addition to training administrators, teachers, secretaries and point-of-sale cafeteria workers, it was able to custom code fields within Skyward to keep track of remote learners and Chromebook inventory.
“This ability to customize the Skyward interface helps keep information in the hands of staff in a quick and efficient manner,” he reported. “We’re in the beginning stages of developing an internal website for staff members to provide tips and tricks on navigating and effectively using Skyward in their classroom. It can be found at https://bit.ly/skywardtriad
Wielgus also reported that the district received a shipment of new student chromebooks and were able to assign them to all current second-grade students.
“We used the chromebooks from graduating seniors and assigned them to all 104 kindergarten and first-grade remote learners as well as ensuring all full-time remote learners have devices for home. conferencing without any technical issues.”
Other technology has come with success to the district this year as well.
On Saturday, August 15, the solar panel systems at both Silver Creek and St. Jacob Elementary Schools was brought up and put online, reported Lon Henke, operations director.
“With no students in the building on Saturday at Silver Creek, the panels were generating more power than we were using,” he said. “What a sight to see – a meter running backwards!”
If the district passes the final review and approval states, the district’s solar system project could bring Solar Renewal Energy Certificates into its orbit. Triad is off the wait list, according to Michael Raymond, district director of business and communications.
“Phase one was constructed with the expansion of phase two easily added,” he reported. “From last month’s discussion, phase two would be an estimated $1,239,000 with $628,000 in rebates. The cost per KW is lower for phase two since phase one had the increased cost for conduit and infrastructure.”
With the completion of phase two, the district would also be fencing in CAH and ST solar fields and then completing a parking pad at CAH for bus parking and overflow vehicle parking he said. The fence and parking pad would be brought to the board from the bid processes. And then there are the electric buses.
“We received encouraging news that our bus manufacturer for the electric buses is expecting the arrival of the chassis from Ford Motor Company ‘any day,’” said Fagan. “As a result of the delay, the manufacture has moved forward with the preparation of other components in an effort to further expedite the process. At this time they seem very confident about the December delivery,” he said.
In addition to the existing, active solar panels, Henke’s operations department has been keeping busy in many other ways.
Henke said that this year cleaning the schools is the number one priority on his list.
“Preparing the buildings has been a long and very different process,” he said. “All the rooms needed to be arranged to meet the new social distancing guidelines. We have set up all the tents that have arrived at this time. I am happy to see them being used throughout the day.
“It has been ‘all hands on deck,’” he continued. “Everyone was needed. Now that certain tasks have been completed, the maintenance crew can get back to the tasks of maintaining the facilities. There have been a few baseball games played on the new turf field. Everything is working well.
“This will be quite a year but like everything else we do here at Triad, if we approach it as a team effort, we know we will be doing the best we can to service the students and staff,” he said.
The Troy Police Department conducted interviews and selected Officer Nick Elliot as the next Troy Elementary school resource officer. He was introduced at the latest board meeting. The St. Jacob Police Department stands ready to fill the other spot once the district knows it will not be remote learning. Chief Kukla of St. Jacob is ensuring that there are regular patrols of the school grounds in the meantime.