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Butler County schools eye in-person opening

Butler County schools eye in-person opening

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Butler County students can expect to return to their respective schools for the new school year – at least at the moment. Local districts are in the process of finalizing plans for the upcoming school year.

East Butler Public Schools will start Aug. 13, which had been its original starting date. But, things will still look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Michael Eldridge said East Butler will implement "Masks on the Move," in which students will be required to wear mask coverings while moving around the building. They would not be required to wear masks in the classroom unless near another individual.

Eldridge noted that the school district utilizes a COVID risk gauge that is updated weekly by Four Corners Health Department. Currently, the Four Corners Health Department district – which encompasses Butler, Polk, York and Seward counties – is in the yellow portion of the dial.

Laura McDougall, executive director of Four Corners, said the health department does what it can to serve as a resource for area schools including the risk dial.

“We plug in a whole lot of local data into that; it helps give a little guidance and background as to where we are in terms of our district, in terms of risk for COVID,” McDougall said. “It helps the schools, too, to gauge what we’re seeing in terms of the virus and the resources we have available to us during this time.”

Other categories on the dial are green, a low risk, and red, which indicates a severe COVID-19 outbreak.

“The yellow would be moderate. That would be Masks on the Move but also within the classroom, students and staff would need to utilize masks when they are in close proximity with one another and good social distancing cannot take place,” Eldridge said. “As you move up higher on the risk gauge, the orange – the high area – masks would be required in the classrooms and in the hallways.”

Eldridge stressed that masks are not required 100% of the time. But, they are required for both students and drivers while using school transportation.

“(We’re) disinfecting each of the classrooms after each secondary class period takes place, and elementary classrooms will be disinfected when they’re in non-classroom activities,” Eldridge said, adding that lunch periods will look the same but the elementary students will be split into more than one lunch period to meet social distancing standards.

“It’s going to look different than it has in the past, but our number one priority has always been to keep our students and staff safe when they return to the building,” he said.

Those attending Aquinas & St. Mary’s Catholic Schools are looking at a start day of Aug. 12.

The Rev. Sean Timmerman, chief administrative officer at Aquinas, noted that transmission by maintaining 3 to 6 feet of physical distance, limiting close proximity interactions to fewer than 15 minutes or wearing a mask covering if social distancing is not possible.

Current plans as of Monday afternoon do not require students or staff to wear masks, though one should be on hand in case social distancing standards can’t be met.

High traffic areas at both Catholic schools will be frequently cleaned and sanitized, and the school district has received ample supplies of alcohol-based hand sanitizer from the University of Nebraska and ESU 7.

During lunchtime, students will sit in every other seat at each table with students being staggered so that no one is sitting directly across from another.

Anyone who tests positive will stay home until 10 days have passed since the symptoms first began and at least 24 hours have passed since symptoms have resolved.

To encourage a culture of staying home if an individual is feeling ill, no penalties will be taken against a student or teacher who stays home due to illness.

A prayer service and informational meeting were held for parents Tuesday night.

“As normal as possible -- that’s what our students need and I think that’s what our students deserve – a huge dose of normal,” Timmerman said. “It’s been a really difficult time, both mentally and emotionally these last five months. We’re going to try to make it as normal as possible but also as safe as we can, as well.”

Chad Denker, superintendent of David City Public Schools, said earlier this week that the district’s plans were to be more finalized after Wednesday night’s board of education meeting.

“The only thing I can tell you right now is that teachers are coming back on Monday, Aug. 3 and students are coming back on Wednesday, Aug. 12. All of the other details will be decided on Wednesday night,” Denker told the Banner-Press via email Monday.

McDougall noted that the school districts receive advisement from the Nebraska Department of Education and other groups, though they do work with schools to give guidance.

“It’s so important to have those kids in school, especially behavioral health-wise, developmentally they learn better,” McDougall said. “We have to balance that, too. If kids become ill, there’s usually a family to take that virus home to and the families live in the community.

We’re just hoping that our numbers don’t get any worse. We hope they get less when school starts so that we have a fighting chance to keep our kids in the classroom all of the time.”

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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