Bangor schools to re-open this fall
Since the 2019-20 school year ended, Bangor School District has been busy gaining knowledge and becoming better aware of what needs to be done in order to reopen its schools as safely as possible in the fall.
Last week, the school board approved five-day in-person instruction for the reopening of school on September 1 as well as a consortium membership in the Coulee Region Virtual Academy with West Salem, La Crosse, Holmen and Onalaska.
With the reopening of school comes challenges that district families must be aware of regarding in person instruction. Any plan can change overnight as the district pays attention to the positive COVID-19 cases in La Crosse County and the age group that is being affected.
“We may be comfortable with having students in our buildings on a Monday and on Tuesday we may feel we need to close a classroom or a building for a short period of time to wait for test results or to provide for additional cleaning,” Superintendent Dave Laehn said. “We cannot state that by reopening our schools we believe our classrooms are safe from exposure to COVID-19. We cannot stop the spread. The best we can do is to mitigate the risk of exposure in the school setting.”
The district’s current plans were developed based on the idea that the district can mitigate, not eliminate, exposure to the coronavirus. Families will need to decide for themselves if they are comfortable sending their child to school based on the safety parameters the district will be establishing.
Administration considered recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control, the Wisconsin Department of Health, the local county health departments and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction when considering reopening schools.
Several recommendations were not feasible for Bangor including:
• Limiting class sizes to less than 15 students. The district does not have enough teachers and there is not enough space in its facilities.
• Guaranteeing families that staff can provide six feet of social distancing between every student in every classroom due to space limitations.
• Requiring one child to a seat in every other seat on a school bus. The district covers a large geographic area and the increased costs of buses and lack of drivers renders it impractical.
• Checking every student’s temperature as they get on a school bus or enter school. The additional time to check every student as they enter school could result in students congregating in larger groups, a loss of instructional time and the ability to provide confidentiality would be compromised.
“We understand that our children’s health and safety must be a top priority in opening our schools and we have developed practical protocols that can mitigate health risks,” Laehn said.
On the district’s school buses, children from the same family will likely be assigned to one seat that they sit in both
on the way to school and on the way home.
At the elementary level, staff can have students in cohort groups, which do not intermingle with one another and lunch times and recess time will have to be staggered. Currently, Bangor Elementary School (BES) has 275 students enrolled; a group of around 15 to 20 students would be together all day with very limited exposure to the other 250 students.
Music, art, physical education and LMC teachers can come to the students in classrooms to minimize exposure to other students.
At each school building, staff can create less touch points, which will need to be sanitized, hand sanitizer will be available in all classrooms, different doors can be utilized for entry and exit for groups of students and regular hand washing schedules can be developed.
Staff will prevent students from congregating in large groups in areas such as the library, outdoor spaces, offices or the cafeteria.
The use of face masks or shields will be recommended for both students and staff and the district is hoping to provide all students with at least two face masks.
The district has expectations that every family conduct home screenings for COVID-19 symptoms for each child prior to sending them to school each day and parents/guardians will be required to keep their children at home if they are showing signs of illness.
Children who present symptoms at school will immediately be isolated and parents will be called to pick them up.
Staff members are also expected to conduct self-checks for symptoms of COVID prior to coming to work each day and will also be asked to stay home if they are sick.
If these practical safety protocols are not sufficient in making parents comfortable sending their child to school, the district will be offering the Coulee Region Virtual Academy (CRVA) as an option for families who would like an alternative educational setting for their children.
CRVA is a full-time, online instructional experience for students in grades Kindergarten through 12. The courses are taught by certified teachers from local school districts to allow more control and customization of courses to ensure high levels of rigor and alignment to the state and local standards.
Students will be provided an excellent education that will allow them the flexibility to meet their individual needs and those of their family.
“It is truly impossible to know or predict what will take place during the 2020-21 school year. We know COVID-19 is not yet behind us and that until a vaccine is available, there will be many people concerned about the health and well-being of their children and other family members,” Laehn said. “However, this global health crisis cannot be a public education crisis. We must continue to educate our children so that they can develop the skills and aptitudes they will need to face future challenges and solve new problems which arise.”