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Hiawatha students and teachers will be wearing masks when they return to the classroom in September.

Mask protocol was detailed in the Hiawatha USD 415’s “Return to Learn” plan, which was approved at Monday night’s meeting. Following a lengthy discussion on several of the provisions in the plan, the board cast a unanimous vote to approve it.

According to the plan, all students, adults and anyone else visiting the facilities in the district are required to wear a mask if over the age of 3. Superintendent Lonnie Moser said there will be some exceptions to the rule and if health conditions prevent a person from wearing a mask, those situations will come under consideration as well.

Moser said he is asking for the input of the teachers and administration teams to come up with protocol on “mask breaks” — essentially times when masks can be taken off during situations of social distancing at 6 feet or more. He said this provision is better for the teachers and administration to determine, as they are in each individual building and know the situation in the classroom and each class’s schedule best.

Hiawatha healthcare providers, Jodi Twombly, Danielle Jagels and Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg were special guests at the meeting and provided input on not only wearing masks, but considerations for sports with practices starting Aug. 17, as approved by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Twombly told school board members that providers have made the decision they will not be writing excuses for students to exempt them from wearing a mask.

Wearing masks in public places — especially schools — has been a hot topic from the state to local public officials. While the governor mandated masks in public, Legislatures over rode Gov. Kelly’s decision and left it in the hands of local governments. While some counties voted in mask mandates, Brown County did not.

The state released a nearly 1,100 page document Navigating Changes for the upcoming school year and masks were a huge proponent in this document. The Brown County Commission voted to let local school boards make decisions on whether masks were required in school. At that meeting, Superintendent Lonnie Moser told county commissioners that USD 415 intended to follow the governor’s guidelines.

Local school districts in Nemaha County and South Brown County have “recommended” the usage of masks only. At the county meeting last week, USD 430 board president Jason Selland said their board wanted the authority to make that decision.

The board members also agreed that the mask mandate within the schools will be revisited on a monthly basis and decisions will be made based on recommendations from local health officials. So far the county numbers of COVID-19 cases (44 positive at the time of the meeting) have remained fairly low, however Broberg said the rate of increase has seen dramatic inclines in the past couple of months — compared to the beginning of the pandemic.

Twombly and Jagels served on the school district’s Health and Wellness Task Force and made several recommendations about wearing masks, classrooms, sports and more. There was some discussions about band and choir — which most recommendations are to sing and use instruments in areas only where students can be spread out, primarily outside. Some instruments may not be able to be used due to increased saliva secretions.

While KSHSAA approved practices to begin Aug. 17 as usual, there are still many concerns about specific sports. Twombly said football and basketball were “higher risk” sports, while volleyball would be a moderate risk sport. She said individualized, low-contact sports such as cross country, track and tennis would be considered low-risk sports. There was some discussion about whether specific sports would require masks, but that could be an issue with labored breathing.

Board members agreed they wanted sports and Twombly said she agreed too, however felt that people in general turned a “blind eye” toward the sports, including her own family, who she admitted had participated in some intramural activities over the summer. She said, however, if all of the students and faculty do what’s required and stay safe in the classroom and then go out to tackle each other on the football field, then what’s that accomplish?

Moser said he has noticed colleges starting to drop fall sports — either completely or move to the spring — and felt that the writing was on the wall for KSHSAA to do the same.

“We start practice the 17th and will revisit on the 24th,” he said.

No determination on specific sports was made at Monday’s meeting and Moser advised the group that the Big Seven League would be meeting this week for discussions and hoped more information would become available by Aug. 24, which is when the board will hold a special meeting that morning at 7 a.m. Moser recommended the board meet every two weeks to keep up on the situation, as it could change dramatically.

Other discussion centered on enrollment and the three phases of the Return to Learn plan. Moser, along with Brintnall, administration and school leadership teams have devised a plan that offers on-site learning, a hybrid model and a total remote learning. Students were offered a choice of on-site or remote. The hybrid model would be determined by school officials, based on health issues concerning the COVID-19 coronavirus and recommendations by local health officials. It would include a partial on-site/remote learning option and Moser said they would try to keep all family members on the same rotation for convenience.

Moser said he and the team felt confident they have come up with a model that would allow for phases to be transitioned into smoothly if the conditions warrant it. While students can change enrollment within the first week of school — to go remote or on-site — the district feels that following that first week that changes following need to be made at quarter or semester, depending upon each individual situation.

Moser told the board members there are around 60 students that had thus far chosen remote learning as of current enrollment numbers. He said if students choose the district’s online curriculum, then they are still considered an “enrolled student,” which is what state aid is based upon. However, if families choose their own “home school curriculum,” then they are not considered enrolled students. Moser said his staff would be touching base with each of the families to make these determinations soon and advised that as the situation continues enrollment numbers and specific dollars from state aid would not necessarily remain secure, leading to some “real budget problems in the future.”

The school district has been working on obtaining supplies for all classrooms, including disinfecting wipes and spray, along with masks and other materials. Thermal cameras to record temperature will be installed and everyone will have their temperature taken twice daily and also prior to loading a bus. While some supplies have arrived, other supplies are on back order. Moser said they have enough cloth masks to provide two for every student and faculty members. They also have a supply of 10,000 3-ply masks to use if necessary.

Students will be asked to provide their own masks if possible, with frequent changing and washing as the need arises.

“We aren’t going for a sterile environment, but going for a block of those secretions,” Twombly said.

Twombly and Jagels were wearing masks at the meeting and she pointed out they were Level 3 Hospital grade masks, which can be worn 2-3 weeks before disposing of. A cloth mask — which she said is most likely what the students will be wearing — can be worn 2-3 times before being laundered. If the mask becomes soiled, then it will need laundered before that. She said masks are never to be turned inside out and worn.

There was some discussion about contact tracing and situations that would involve quarantining of staff and students, despite a negative tests. All would depend upon proximity to the infected person.

Moser also discussed breakfast and lunch situations — noting that at the middle and high schools outdoor lunchrooms would be served if weather allowed. Other options include utilizing classrooms and he said they have added additional lunch times to spread out students within the commons/lunch areas.

Moser also noted that if the district has to utilize the hybrid phase for a combination of remote and on-site learning, then lunches will be packed up for delivery and pick-up again.

In addition to approving the Return to Learn plan, the board approved a motion that if the teacher’s contract year extends beyond the current approved 189 days that they would be paid daily based on that contract.

The board has a special meeting set for 7 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 24 to determine which plan the district will proceed with — on-site, remote or a hybrid model. The meeting is being aired over YouTube via Zoom conference and parents can tune in by clicking on the link provided on the district’s Facebook page. To view Monday night’s meeting go to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCN1w_ZFe1YUtqqoDPKA4PDA or you may go to www.hiawathaschools.org.

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