During the Keys School Board meeting Thursday night, July 9, Superintendent Vol Woods discussed how they would navigate the upcoming year amid COVID-19 by laying out his back-to-school plan. But he warned it was changing every day, and sometimes every hour.
"The situation is very fluid," he said.
The district still does not have all of the answers, and officials are reaching out to the Cherokee County and Cherokee Nation health departments to ask how to proceed when a student or staff member tests positive for the virus.
"There are already students and employees in the county who have tested positive. It is just a matter of time before it hits Keys," said Woods.
Masks will likely be a requirement, but administrators have not decided whether they will be mandated for employees only, or students, too. They are concerned about complying with state goals, but not having the resources to perform adequately. This includes the purchasing of disposable masks.
"The state tells us to do it right, but doesn't give us the resources to do it right," said Woods.
The district is also ordering gloves, gowns, full-face shields, wipes, sanitizing kits, and hand sanitizer. First Baptist Church is donating disinfecting spray.
The district will offer two schooling options: full-time online and blended in-person. They are encouraging families, whenever possible, to choose a blended classroom, because it is difficult for many students to get the same experience from an all-virtual classroom.
The district has a goal of acquiring 300 Chromebooks to facilitate at-home learning. Already ordered were 128 in June, and officials hope to secure additional funding from Cherokee Nation to make up the difference, or they will have to dip into their carryover fund.
Parents will only have to pay a modest insurance and maintenance fee for the Chromebooks, but the exact amount has yet to be determined. They are also planning to acquire mobile hotspots for students in homes without internet access, and all classroom instructors will receive training on how to use Google Classroom.
Principal Tami Woods is optimistic about next year's outlook.
"We are light years away from where we were in March," she said.
She explained that at the elementary and junior high schools, they plan to implement daily temperature checks. Students will not be allowed to congregate in areas such as the lunchroom and the gym. They will also rotate schedules that will limit contact certain grades will have with one another.
"When they have P.E., they will go straight outside. They will be spaced out so they will be socially distanced. The students whose paths cross during gym will be the same students they will have lunch with," she said.
Principal Steven Goss explained they are trying to do the best they can.
"People ask me questions, but 'fluid' is the word. Information that is new comes out hourly, and we are trying to put it together the best we can," said Goss.
He explained that it is difficult to plan a schedule that is socially distant because "school isn't meant to be socially distant." They also plan to assess mental health at the high school.
"There is a lot of anxiety being a teenager; adding onto it this can be very difficult for the young," said Goss.
The board discussed whether to add to the back-to-school plan a requirement for families to call in the event that a member of the household contracts the virus. Third-party uses of facilities and campuses will be suspended.
The school board also nominated a new president, Beth Bailey, with Rick Patrick as vice president, Radean Foreman as clerk, and Jerry Hooper as assistant clerk.
The next Keys School Board meeting will be Thursday, Aug. 13, at the high school at 7 p.m.