Nome Public Schools prepare to open in August
Nome Public School staff and administrators have put a lot of work into planning for a school year with the COVID-19 pandemic still posing a threat to Alaska and beyond.
The school district released “Smart Start 2020, Nome Public Schools Re-Opening Plan” on July 10. The plan explains how the schools will deal with the pandemic. The guiding principles will be to prioritize the safety of students and staff, to keep students in school for as many days as possible for as long as possible and to ensure equitable access to education for all students. Guidelines from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Department of Health and Human Services are the basis of the plan. Key input throughout the school year will come from Norton Sound Hospital and the Department of Public Health.
The plan describes three threat levels. The lowest is designated Green, a situation where the community has gone 14 days without a community spread case of the COVID-19 virus. The middle level of threat is Yellow. Yellow means there are some active cases from community spread. And the highest level, Red, means there are many active cases, a high risk of community spreading, or an active case or cases in a school.
At the low Green level students will be in class and heightened safety precautions will be the rule. All staff will wear masks and/or face shields. The same will be recommended for the students. There will be frequent hand washing and hand sanitizer will be available. A Norton Sound Hospital community health nurse will screen staff and students for elevated temperatures. Anybody with symptoms of COVID-19 will be sent home, staff or student.
Also in the Green threat level communication with families and the community will be timely and informative. Early in the school year there will be training to ensure parents are prepared for distance learning.
On the buses there will be empty seats and household members will sit together. When possible parents will transport their own kids. Bus drivers and students will wear masks on the bus and the buses will be sanitized daily.
Welcome back planning for all schools under the low level Green condition will include orientation day for sixth through ninth graders at NBHS. There will be a focus on preparing students and parents for switching between threat levels.
To ensure continuity of learning there will be baseline assessments. Lesson plans will look at gaps in learning and be modified accordingly. There will be after school assistance and students who need extra support will get it.
Start time and start date for school will be normal. If parents prefer to enroll their kids in virtual school so they do not have to physically attend there will be a minimum one-semester requirement.
Year-round professional development for staff will continue. Focus will be on addressing learning gaps, mental health of staff and students, and preparation for blended learning. That means virtual plus face-to-face learning.
Just how connected is the community? There will be a survey of families at the beginning of the year to get a good picture. Internet access will determine a lot. The district is working to maximize connectivity. Chromebooks or laptops will be provided for third through 12th grades and iPads for Kindergarten through second grade.
As for sports and other activities the Alaska Schools Activities Association will provide guidance. The requirements of quarantine may limit or restrict student and staff travel, which will require district approval in all cases. The situation will be monitored and more information will be provided closer to the start of school.
In the medium risk Yellow condition much will remain the same as with the lower level Green status. The biggest difference is that students will be in class only two days a week with the rest of the learning at home. There will be an increase in contact with families regarding the social and emotional needs of the students. On the buses there will be better social distancing as fewer students will be riding. Vulnerable populations will attend four days a week.
If the pandemic moves into the Red condition, the highest threat level, schools will be doing distance learning only. The method of delivery will depend on the need of the students. School buildings will be closed to students. Paper packets with learning materials will be handled with gloves. If there is a case in a school the buildings might be closed for two to five days for deep cleaning.
At the Red level, buses will be used solely for delivering meals. There will be more online programming to prepare families for distance learning and online tutoring opportunities.
All student activities will be cancelled and there will be no student or staff travel.