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Jackson R-2 releases school opening plan

The Jackson R-2 School District released its “Return 2 Learn” plan, outlining how the District will open on Aug. 24. Included was the Ignite Online option previously announced, as well as modified class schedules, mask use procedures and screening information.

The 33-page document became available on the District’s Web site and social media accounts on Friday. Superintendent Dr. John Link released a preview address of the plan on Thursday, stating that the number one goal of the plan was to ensure that students and staff members are able to come to school and return home safely each day.

According to Link, more than 400 students have already enrolled in the Ignite Online program. The online program allows students to take classes taught by district teachers online for at least a semester.

The registration deadline to enroll in Ignite Online has been extended to 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 7. No late registrations will be accepted due to staffing and necessary planning.

The more than 5,000 students in the District who plan on attending school on-campus will see some changes due to the coronavirus.

Masks will not be required all day, but will be required in areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. Secondary students will be asked to wear masks during passing periods and when working in small groups with other students.

Elementary students will similarly be asked to wear a mask when working in small groups, when social distancing is not possible and when medically fragile students are present.

Students who take the bus will also be required to wear a mask during their entire trip. “I know for little ones, that’s going to be a problem,” Link said, adding that bus captains will help enforce mask wearing and hand sanitizing on the buses.

Masks will not be worn while during P.E. classes, recess and athletic activities. Students will be required to have a mask with them at school and can contact their building principal to have a mask provided to them.

Teachers will be required to wear a mask at all times unless they are able to social distance eight to 10 feet away from students. Students and staff who have a medical reason that will not allow them to wear a mask are asked to communicate that with their building principal.

Link said the District decided to require mask use to help mitigate any kind of spread if someone proves to be positive for COVID-19. “I pray and hope that we’ll have the full support from our parents and our guardians, that they’ll understand that for us to be back in school, this is something that we have to do,” Link said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask and I do believe that it will help.”

Additionally, secondary students will have new class schedules, alternating days between even and odd hour classes. Link said the change was to limit the number of passing periods. Secondary schools will now be limited to four passing times throughout the day, and classes will now be around 90 minutes long. Link said the dismissal of on-campus students will also be staggered to limit contact between students.

“We kind of like this schedule,” Link said. “As an educator, I see a lot of opportunity for discussions, for more creative learning, for more hands-on projects and more collaboration amongst the students.”

Secondary students enrolled in Ignite Online will also follow this schedule, allowing online students to focus on four classes daily. Ignite Online students will be limited in elective classes they can take, but will be able to fulfill a music credit through individual lessons.

The plan also includes some of the facility and cleaning changes that are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. School buildings will be properly cleaned and disinfected multiple times during the day, and doors will be labeled as entrances and exits to help improve traffic flow.

Hand washing will be encouraged for students throughout the day, including before and after lunch and recess. Hand sanitizer will be located in each classroom, on playgrounds and at each entrance and exit of the school buildings.

Classroom desks will be arranged in the same direction and will be spaced 3 to 6 feet apart where possible. Elementary classrooms will also use tape reminders on surfaces to help students space out appropriately. Clear dividers and small barriers may also be used.

Students may be asked to help wipe off their desks between classes, especially in computer labs and business classes. The school supply lists have been drastically reduced and students will not be able to share supplies. Supplies should be labeled with the student’s name to avoid shared objects.

Water fountains will be replaced will bottle filling stations, and visitors will be restricted. Visitors that are allowed will be required to wear a face covering at all times.

All students and staff members will be required to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and take their temperature before arriving at school. If they have any symptoms or have a temperature over 100 degrees, students and staff members must be free of a fever for three days and see improvements in other symptoms.

Students will be required to report to the school nurse if they receive a positive COVID-19 test result, and staff members will be required to report positive COVID-19 test results to their building principal. Both students and staff members will also be required to report a positive test result of a household member, and they will be asked to self-quarantine.

The plan, which also includes special screening procedures for athletes and coaches, includes the various steps needed to return to school for those who have symptoms and for those who were in contact with a coronavirus-positive individual.

School nurses will manage isolation rooms for those who are sick and will be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment. The nurses will also work with the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center to help with contact tracing.

The plan states that possible school closures can be made by the superintendent due to an excessive number of student absent, an excessive number of staff members absent, a confirmed positive case that impact multiple school buildings or to protect public health. At the time of a temporary school shut down, on campus students will still be responsible for attending school virtually.

The plan was released around 140 days after school closed this spring. Link said the District will continue to release answers to questions over the next few weeks.

“There are so many things that we can’t put in the plan,” Link said. “If we put every detail in there, it would be 300 pages long. There are so many questions that we just can’t think of them all.”

Link also asked families to stay healthy before school starts by continuing to social distance, using good hygiene and wearing masks.

“The trend around the state right now is there’s about a dozen school districts that have decided to start school later or go online for the first quarter, which in my opinion means they will probably be online for at least a semester,” Link said. “We really don’t want that to happen in Jackson, but we need your help to do that because we got to stay healthy.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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