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COVID-19 procedures discussed during board meeting
Dr. Yancy Ford
Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford holds up a bottle filled with disinfectant while discussing back-to-school plans Thursday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
I think providing options to our parents and community members is important.
Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford

 SPRINGFIELD — In a comprehensive effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Effingham County Board of Education has approved sweeping changes that will impact every aspect of the upcoming school year for students, parents, teachers, administrators and custodians.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford said during Thursday’s regularly schedule board meeting. “I would never have thought as a school educator that we would be sitting around developing plans for something of this nature but I do feel strongly that it is so important to get our kids back in the school building. They need their teachers and their teachers need them.”

  School officials have worked diligently to prepare schools for an Aug. 5 opening It will mark the first day of a traditional educational setting since March 18 when Gov. Brian Kemp ordered schools closed because of the pandemic.

“I do think it is important to remind each other that we are not trying to prevent COVID-19,” Ford said. “I don’t think we have the capability to do that but I do think we can put some measures in place that will lessen the chance of a mass spread so that we can get every body back in school eventually.”

For parents who feel uncomfortable sending their children to school, a virtual education option is available. Almost 3,000 of the district’s nearly 13,000 students will go this route.

“I have two kids and several nieces and nephews in the district, and I am sending  them to traditional school with the respect that I have for the ones who are also choosing to do virtual school because I think, at the end of the day, we want to get our students educated at a very high level. I think providing options to our parents and our community members is important.”

Later, Ford spoke a bit more about the learning options.

“We are going to work hard for our students, our community and our parents — on both sides, the traditional and the virtual — because I think both are very important in the pandemic that we are in,” he said. 

Ford, who stressed that the effort to keep COVID-19 out of schools starts at home.

“This is a partnership between the school, the community and the home,” he said. “One of the things that we are asking our parents to do is check their child’s temperature prior to leaving for school. ... I think this will definitely be a good starting point as the parents have the capability of doing this.

“The will help tremendously.”

Students who go the traditional route will encounter unconventional things during each school day, including random temperature checks. Those with a temperature of 100.4F or higher — GEMA has sent each school a digital thermometer — will be isolated and sent home.

The staff will undergo periodic health screenings, too.

Ford said it is crucial that a student’s temperature be checked before leaving for school each day. He also urged proper hygiene measures, including frequent use of hand sanitizer.

The superintendent presented some key COVID-19 statistics for Georgia. Through July 14, the state had 123,423 cases and 3,054 deaths. There has been one fatality among residents 17 and under.

“I think that we would all agree that any death, just one, is too many because that is a loved one lost by a family,” Ford said. “We certainly want to take that very seriously.”

The seriousness with which the district regards COVID-19 is evident in the amount of cleaning it plans to do during the school day. That includes hands and equipment, with a special focus on high-use areas.

All buses are due to be cleaned before the school year starts. Each one will have a hand sanitizer station at the front and feature a sign that will reinforce COVID-19 safety measures.

Every bus will be equipped with disinfectant and will be cleaned with it after each route is completed.

Select windows will be left partially open on the buses in order to promote air circulation. This includes buses that have air conditioning.

Bus riders will be encouraged to wear masks and are required to face forward and keep their hands to themselves at all times.

GEMA has donated 15,000 masks to the district.

“Masks will not be required for students but will be highly encouraged,” Ford said. “I do think that will help control the spread of the virus. Staff will be required to wear masks while in transit and in situations where social distancing is not possible or practicable.”

A staff member will be on hand at each school to make sure students use hand sanitizer when they enter the building. Random students will have their temperature taken at this point.

Students will also be reminded to socially distance at least six feet where applicable. The flow of traffic in the buildings will be managed by principals.

Non-essential student movement throughout the day will be limited. Principals will have an individual school plan for class changes and other transitioning periods.

Principals will consider some of the following as they develop the school’s individual plan:

— Additional time for transitions

— Flow paths to keep students separated and to minimize congregation

— Allow for restroom breaks and handwashing

— Designated areas (half lanes) to use, etc.

Principals will strive to keep students separated (to the extent practicable).

Outdoor recess will continue but the number of students gathered in one area will be limited.

Some playground equipment may be prohibited for student use.

After recess, students will be required to wash hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Non-essential visitors, volunteers and activities involving external groups or organizations will be limited. 

Parents or visitors who wish to see the principal or other staff member will have to wait in a designated area, They will also undergo a temperature check.

Masks and sign-in will be required.

Desks and door handles will be cleaned and disinfected between classes. Based upon classroom configuration, and to the extent possible, student desks will face in the same direction. Students seated at tables will sit on the same side.

The staff will clean/disinfect touched surfaces frequently between classes. Shared objects will receive the same treatment.

Students’ personal items will be kept separate as much as possible. Group work will be limited.

All restrooms will be disinfected after each transition. Soap and towel dispensers will be checked regularly.

Water fountains with upward spouts will be covered or disabled. Students must only use bottle fillers to obtain water.

Students are encouraged to bring water bottles from home or purchase one within the buildings (middle/high school).

The district is working to develop a partnership with local businesses to sponsor water bottles for students and staff.

Breakfast and lunch procedures are being developed at the school level in cooperation with the principal, cafeteria manger and the district’s school nutrition coordinator. 

All cashiers must sit behind a window or Plexiglas. School nutrition staff members will wear masks.

Serving lines will be sanitized after each lunch and breakfast. To the extent possible, students may eat in classrooms or in the cafeteria with spaced seating.

All locker rooms must be disinfected after each class change. Weight room equipment must be disinfected after each use..

Students won’t be required to dress out until further notice. Teachers will plan outdoor PE activities — weather permitting.

Open houses will also be affected by COVID-19 measures. Open house dates are Aug. 3 (4-7 p.m.) for elementary schools and Aug. 4 (4-7 p.m.) for middle/high schools. All levels will offer a virtual open house for traditional school.

At the high school level, open house will be limited to ninth graders and new students. It will be limited sixth graders and new students in middle school.

All levels of elementary students will be allowed to attend.

For large gatherings such as PTO and booster club meetings, virtual alternatives will be offered. Masks will be required in all face-to-face group meetings.