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Education Today: Getting kids back to class in Norfolk, NE

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NORFOLK, Neb. (KTIV) -- In just a few weeks, students all across Siouxland will be looking to get back to school. But, what those plans look like, depends on who you talk to.

Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jami Jo Thompson said half of all K-12 grade students will start school on August 13 and the other half will start on August 14. Students will fully be in session together on August 17. That will allow teachers and staff the opportunity to teach the student body the new protocols and safety measures.

"It wouldn't look like a normal school day, but we would have everybody back and would be teaching in person," said Dr. Thompson.

Also under their plan, face coverings are strongly recommended for students at all times and required for staff.

"Our plan involves four different tiers," said Dr. Thompson. "Green, yellow, orange, and red to mirror the Elkhorn-Logan Valley Public Health Department's risk dial."

Dr. Thompson said as of July 29, they are in the yellow phase. That means if they were to start school today, all students would attend their classes in person.

"When we get to orange we would look at a hybrid model where we only have half of our students within a building on any given day," said Dr. Thompson. "So a student would have three days of online learning and two days of onsite learning. If we get to red, which we certainly hope we don't, we would go to completely online or remote learning."

Dr. Thompson said since the pandemic began, it's been a fluid situation.

"We want to be prepared for every scenario so we can move quickly back and forth depending on the level of risk in our community and we want to have as normal and as calm of an environment for our students as possible," said Dr. Thompson.

While they try to keep it as normal as possible, students will notice changes. That includes symptom checks each day.

When students and staff first enter the building, they'll scan their ID card. From there they'll be temperature checked and asked three questions. They'll then move on to X's on the floor indicating social distancing until they move on with their school day.

During the school day, students will still move throughout the hallway from class to class, but…

"We're looking at a staggered bell schedule particularly at the senior high level," said Dr. Thompson. "So some students will leave two minutes before the others to limit the amount of traffic in the hallway."

In the classrooms, they would eliminate extra furniture like couches to create more room to space out desks.

Another difference is meals.

"Some students will eat in the classroom while others may still be in the lunchroom," said Dr. Thompson. "At the senior high, we're going to have to expand to our gyms to keep that 6 feet apart."

Dr. Thompson said while they're looking to get all of their students back in the classroom, they understand that some students may have underlying health conditions that prevent them from being in school.

"If that is the case then we will work with parents on an individual basis and put a plan in place to support them," said Dr. Thompson. "But we are not undertaking a massive online learning option at this point."

Dr. Thompson said if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they'll work closely with the Elkhorn-Logan Valley Public Health Department to figure out the next steps. That could involve contact tracing and quarantine measures.

When it comes to cleaning and disinfecting the school, Dr. Thompson said they've enhanced and heightened those measures.

It includes cleaning and disinfecting after each student use, as well as doing more overall cleaning of schools at night.

Dr. Thompson said they're also using fogging machines in some areas. The frequency of that depends on what their risk level is in the district. Right now, they plan to use them once a week.

Michaela Feldmann

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