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Education Today: Getting kids back to class in Sioux City

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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -- How are you wanting your student to go back to school this fall?

We continue our special series, looking at how Siouxland Schools are handling Education Today with Sioux City Community School District and Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools.

Sioux City Community School District Superintendent, Dr. Paul Gausman said students will return to the classroom on August 25th in Sioux City. That is one day later than they originally planned so that staff can train on virtual instruction.

At Bishop Heelan, President Dr. John Flanery said freshman will return on August 24th. All other students will start on the 25th. He said that is the way their calendar is always set.

"It's been a crazy time," said Dr. Gausman. "Certainly we prepare for a lot of things in our line of work and we know that most days are filled with unexpected items that occur, but we've just been on overdrive since March 13th basically."

For students across Siouxland, the school year will be looking and feeling much different this year. In Sioux City, the community school district is still considering what that schooling will look like.

"The status of the pandemic in Iowa is changing even as we are here right now," said Dr. Gausman. "Certainly we could make a decision today, but more likely than not, it would be wrong. It would simply be a guess as to what it's going to be like at the end of August."

The first option of three different plans is traditional learning.

"Which will look and feel much like regular schooling with new social distancing restrictions in place," said Dr. Gausman.

The second option is a virtual plan where students are not coming into the schools at all.

"We have enough devices that all students will have their own device," said Dr. Gausman. "We are working to solve the internet challenge for those that may not have connectivity at home."

Dr. Gausman said solving that could mean getting internet into student's homes through a mobile hotspot or installing devices in those homes.

The third option for returning to school is a hybrid plan.

"The students may come in for a portion of the week in smaller groups so that we're able to keep them even more distant and then learn from home for a portion of that as well," said Dr. Gausman.

Dr. Gausman said he understands that some parents will not be comfortable with an in-person option.

"We know that there will be some students that are immunocompromised or are constantly around people who have challenges and are quite vulnerable," said Dr. Gausman. "We've got students that are living and being raised with their grandparents."

Each school in the district will also have a designated room in their building known as the caring room. If a child is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, they will be sent there to be evaluated.

But one thing is for sure. Face coverings will be required.

"As students are getting on the bus, as they're coming into large settings, as they are working their way through the instructional process, they need a mask," said Dr. Gausman.

He said if there is a reason why a student cannot wear a face covering or if a family does not want their child to, they will have options for them.

"We do have the virtual option," said Dr. Gausman. "So if you are coming to our school for the safety of your child, for the safety of all the other children, and our staff who we value so much, masks will be required."

At Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools, President Dr. John Flanery said a decision on masks for students and staff most likely will not come until they get closer to school.

"We want to see how this pandemic continues to move and fluctuate," said Dr. John Flanery. "If I had to say school was starting today and I was making a decision on masks, I would say that masks would be used more often throughout the day than not."

The school day will have students fully in person.

"We know that's what's best for our kids, for our families," said Dr. Flanery. "We know that our families can't continue to do daycare and all those kinds of things if we were to shut down."

Dr. Flanery said while many parents are excited to be starting the school year in person, some are apprehensive. He said they will work to provide those families an online option.

So how will social distancing be factored in?

"Eliminating furniture in classrooms that don't need to be there and just trying to work with the desks and tables and chairs," said Dr. Flanery. "We are looking at, at the lower levels, at the preschool through 8th grade, looking at not taking the students out of the classroom and the teacher would rotate in."

At the high school level, they are looking at doing an automatic seating chart that is alphabetical.

"So that way when you are in a classroom, the chances of you sitting by the same kids class after class after class, is higher," said Dr. Flanery. "So if there was an outbreak or a positive test, the students that might have to be quarantined at home would be less than if we just let students come and sit wherever they want."

Dr. Flanery said if a student or staff member tests positive, they would have a room throughout their schools designated as that sick room.

"And we will continue to work with Siouxland District Health on how we treat quarantining and how we treat students and or family members of students within the home that have been exposed or tested positive for COVID," said Dr. Flanery.

Dr. Gausman said they have put a lot of work and resources into looking at sanitation. He said they have purchased new cleaning products as well as masks, shields, and hand sanitizer. Students will help to clean their workspace every day after use. Dr. Gausman also said they will go through classrooms and buses and spray them down with a mister every day.

At Bishop Heelan, Dr. Flanery said they will be shifting the hours of their custodial staff. He said they are also ordering electro-sprayer bottles for disinfecting surfaces, as well as asking students to wipe down surfaces after use.

Michaela Feldmann

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