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Jackson R-2 sends reopening survey, gives update

The Jackson R-2 School District sent out a survey to learn more about District family’s concerns about returning to school on Aug. 24 and what the District needs to do to make school safe for each student.

In a Facebook Live Q&A last Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. John Link said the District has been working on a reopening plan but wants to get parents’ feedback before releasing the full plan to the public.

“We know that there are questions that I can’t answer today, and there are questions that you are going to ask that we might not know the answer to,” Link said. “We are not going to make it up – we are going to tell you ‘we don’t know, but when we do know, we will let you know.’”

Link added that everything they have released so far could change, as the situation is continuing to evolve. “The virus is growing still, and we are trying to do the best we can to stay up with it,” he said.

Link said that students would have to wear masks on the bus, but may not have to during most of the school day. He said that the bus routes are currently the most concerning topic for him, as it is hard to keep 50-60 students socially distant on a bus. He added that it would take 50 additional buses to properly distance the students.

Bus drivers will have throwaway masks for students who do not bring their own, bus captains will supply hand sanitizer as students get on and siblings will be asked to sit together. “If your student cannot wear a mask for some reason, please let us know and we will come up with some other type of way to keep them safe,” Link added.

Parents will also be asked to monitor student’s health daily for any changes or symptoms of sickness. Students and staff must be fever- and symptom-free for 72 hours with no medication before attending school. Families will be contacted and students will be sent home if they develop symptoms while in school.

Once at school, Link said he hopes school will feel relatively normal, with only minor changes for the students. Elementary students will be taken to wash their hands throughout the day, including before and after lunch and recess. In addition, they may eat breakfast or lunch occasionally in their classroom to limit the number of students with whom they remain in contact. Students will also not share school supplies and visitors will be limited.

Another change elementary students may notice is that there will be more custodians in the building during the day. Recess equipment, restrooms and doorknobs will be regularly cleaned.

“For the most part, it won’t be that different” Link said. “At this point, we are not requiring masks. We are highly recommending that you send a mask with your child and that that child brings their mask home daily so you can clean it – but just so they have it if they are in a group setting.”

At the middle school, junior high and high school, students will be asked to put on masks in the hallways during class transitions. Link explained that most of the hallways are hard to make one-way because of the way they were designed.

In addition, students will have to be spread out more during lunchtime and in larger classes. Link said students may be able to eat outdoors during the fall, and classes such as choir and band may be relocated to allow students more room.

Link said school nurses are currently going through student’s school files to identify students who are more at-risk to COVID-19. He said the District will work to protect students who are more at-risk, and that the survey asks about the needs of these students. “We are going to be careful with every student, but there are some that take a little bit of extra care,” Link said.

He mentioned that during summer school, if a medically fragile child was in a classroom, teachers wore masks and the District worked with the other children and parents to make sure the at-risk student was safe. “It’s really important that we all again work together and not be caught in the stigma that the mask shows weakness,” Link added.

Around 700 students signed up for in-person summer school this year, but only 600 ended up coming to the program. Link said he suspects that is due to fear around COVID-19 and the rising number of cases in the area.

The survey gives the District a better look at how many students will need to learn virtually due to their medical status or the safety of their family members. Link said the District’s response to these students will depend on how many require this type of learning in the fall.

“We want to make it safe for every child, and I understand there is going to be fear of letting your child come back to school when there is 5,400 students,” Link said.

For more information or specific questions, families can email the District at info@jr2mail.org or call 243-9501 and ask for Merideth Pobst, Director of Communication.

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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