The Madison Consolidated Schools Board of Trustees approved the district’s plan to reopen classes next month on a normal schedule with procedures in place aimed at preventing spread of COVID-19.

MCS administrators and principals met for a two-hour work session Monday to refine the plan, which sets an Aug. 12 start date for the 2020-2021 year and gives students the option of attending face-to-face classes or resuming online learning like that utilized to close out the 2019-20 school year.

Superintendent Jeff Studebaker said the plan is a result of months of work with local and state health officials, but is designed to be flexible and can revised on the fly should the pandemic hit hard in local schools.

“The virus is the virus, and it sets the timeline … We have to be smarter than that virus, we have to choose to take care of each other and the only way we can get past this is if we set aside stupidity, be smart, do the things we know we need to do to protect ourselves and each other, and go on,” Studebaker said.

Parents on Thursday received an outline of the overall plan containing details for each school and protocols for sanitation, social distancing, mask-wearing and what will happen if students or staff test positive for the coronavirus.

Face masks will be mandated for all in some cases — like on school buses and in hallways — and “strongly recommended” in other settings. All volunteers for the district will be required to wear masks when entering school buildings, but teachers will have the option of requiring masks in their classrooms and parents will be notified of which teachers plan to do so, according to the plan.

Staff members who work more closely with students and stay within six feet for more than 15 minutes — like nurses, special education teachers and occupational therapists — will be required to wear PPE.

Board members noted that maintaining six feet of distance may not be realistic in some classroom settings.

“We will attempt to be at a six-foot social distance when we can achieve it, however there are some places where we cannot. There will be some classrooms where we’ll be closer to the three-foot or four-foot mark with the desks, but everybody will be facing the same direction,” Studebaker said.

Meanwhile, parents will be required to screen their children daily before sending them to school and employees will be required to self-screen for symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, headache or a dry cough. Anyone with symptoms will not be allowed to show up or be sent home if they report those symptoms after arrival.

In the event that a student or employee does show symptoms consistent with the coronavirus, the nurse’s office in each school will have a designated room or space for that person to be evaluated and wait to be pickd up. The school will contact the Jefferson County Health Department immediately if a positive test is confirmed and that person will only be allowed to return if they meet four conditions: no fever for at least 72 hours without fever medication, improvement of other symptoms, at least 10 calendar days passed since symptoms first appeared and the individual has received two negative tests on tests conducted least 24 hours apart.

Asymptomatic students or employees can return to classes after going 10 calendar days without symptoms and being released by a healthcare provider. Students can also return to school if their health care provider approves in writing, the plan stated.

Sanitation will be a big focus in the coming year, with custodians planning to clean and disinfect multiple times daily and bus drivers cleaning seats between every route. Studebaker said federal dollars would hopefully help with the district’s additional costs for making sanitation a top priority.

The district will also maintain a centralized Google form for tracking each time an infected person has entered the building and report that data to the health department for contract tracing.



Virtual Learning

As for students pursuing virtual learning because they are comfortable with attending classes face-to-face, a few conditions have been put in place. Families opting for virtual learning must sign a contract that requires the student to remain in online learning throughout the entire semester and students who opt for that route cannot participate in any athletic, extracurricular, or co-curricular activities. Madison hopes to designate teachers at the elementary and secondary school levels to handle online students, estimated to be about 5% of the student population according to a parent survey conducted by MCS earlier in the pandemic.

Students who take classes face-to-face but get sick will attend their normal classes from home through Google Meet until they meet the requirements to return to the classroom. If a child is too sick to do coursework, the situation will be handled on a case-by-case basis.



Athletics

Another challenge outlined in the plan is the resumption of athletics to be tackled in three stages between July 6 and Aug. 15. The district will not allow access to locker rooms or weight rooms or contact sports until the start of Phase II on July 20, after which those facilities will be opened at 50% capacity. Spectators, media and vendors will be allowed back on school athletic grounds at the start of Phase III on Aug. 15, along with necessary contact between players that meets IHSAA guidelines. Modified sportsmanship practices will be observed, according to the district plan.



Other area schools

Other regional schools plan on opening around the same time. Switzerland County Schools will resume classes on Aug. 12 and make facemasks optional for students, but mandatory for teachers unable to stay six feet away from students. Elementary school students will be required to limit personal items taken between home and school and sit in desks facing one direction.



Staff members will return to work Aug. 10 at Trimble County Schools in Kentucky, which plans to start classes on Aug. 26. Information on different protocols, guidelines and online learning will be released in the coming week, the school corporation said on its Facebook page Thursday.



Neighboring Carroll County Schools has not settled on a return date, but conducted a survey this week that found close to 80% of responding parents planned to send their child to school once classes resumed. Close to 50% said they preferred a start date of Sept. 8, and more than 55% said they would not send their child to school if wearing a facemask was a required condition.



Teachers to report early

Meanwhile, educators at Madison start work Aug. 10 while new teachers start Aug. 3 for orientation. Although the research surrounding COVID is conflicting and makes it hard to project into the fall, Studebaker said it’s vital that students return to their schools and for Madison to provide the “quality product that they’ve come to expect.”

“We’re excited that we’re going to be in school. It’s amazing to see kids on our campus again doing the things they’re supposed to be doing. And there are literally generations worth of research that show students need their schools. They need to be here, they need to be working with the adults that can make them fly and make them catch fire — change their lives, change their direction of what they’re going to do in school … we’re going to do our absolute best to make sure that the students are safe, that our teachers and our faculty and our drivers — everybody is safe,” he said.

The entire plan, including specifics for each school, can be viewed at http://www.madison.k12.in.us/covid-school/1160-complete-district-reopening-plan-approved/file



Other business



• The board received two grants: a $58,442.56 Perkins Grant for Madison’s Career and Technical Education Program and $25,500 from the Indiana Department of Education for social and emotional learning initiatives in conjunction with fine arts.



• Trustees approved two change orders with the Motz Group, the firm designing the new football and track complex, to add a sidewalk connecting the track to the shot put area bleachers and add turf in typically muddy areas for track and field events. The sidewalk totaled $15,910 and the turf work will cost $46,700.



• Approved a contract with security company ETC for fire alarm replacement in the high school for $76,233.



• Recognized Student Representative Ariel Hall for her service this year and gifted her with an iPad mini.



• Moved the date of the Aug. 12 meeting to Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. due to classes starting on the original date.