A week after approving the reopening plan for Alliance Public Schools at a special meeting, school board members discussed adopting new measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
At the special meeting on Aug. 3, the board members voted to reopen school based on the low-risk category of the reopening plan, but offering the option for students to take classes online. At their regular meeting on Aug. 10, the board members discussed implementing some changes, including limiting visitors to the schools, placing six-foot markers on the ground at the entrance of the schools to encourage social distancing, limiting the number of times a student can switch from in-person learning and online learning, and prohibiting students who take the online option from participating in extracurricular activities.
“I was told on this plan to keep the restrictions out of this,” said APS Superintendent Dr. Unzicker. “When you approved only the low-risk version, that’s kind of what this does. For visitors, right now, all we require are temperature and symptom checks performed at home, do not attend school if symptoms exist, and sanitize hands upon entry and exit.”
Unzicker said there are many visitors to the schools each day, from people making deliveries to parents having lunch with their children. Board Member Karen Trussell said she does not support preventing parents from visiting.
“I hate the thought of limiting parents in our buildings when their children are inside that building,” said Trussell. “I, personally, if my daughter was in there, and you said I couldn’t go in there, I’d wonder what’s going on in there. COVID or no COVID.”
Board President Tim Kollars noted that children already spend time with their parents outside of school hours, noting the effort to make the school year as normal as possible.
“It seems like we’re beating on a dead horse here,” said Kollars. “The whole thing is, we’re trying to make this as normal as we can to educate our kids. The kids have been together all summer. They’ve been with their parents.
“My whole thing on this deal that I’m fighting for, and so far everybody’s been pretty good about it, and I commend you all, is our job is to give these kids an education,” Kollars said. “It’s not to teach them to hide from something. Period. So that’s where I stand whenever I make a comment, it’s going to be based on what I said. I’m not against something that we have to do that will make people be a little more comfortable being here. But, I want it to be consistent.”
Board Member Shana Brown suggested not making changes at the current time, and continually assess the situation. Kollars reiterated that he is not against changing the policy if it helps students and the community feel safer.
Board Member Tim Richey asked about implementing social distancing outside of the school to go along with keeping students in cohorts.
“We’re doing all I can within the plan to put protections on,” said Unzicker. “The board has not gone to six-foot distancing indoors, because that would mean an A-B schedule.”
Unzicker said based on the board’s decision at the special meeting, students are being spaced out as much as possible in classrooms. He noted the amount of time he has spent trying to make their approved reopening plan work.
“I’ve spent hours every week in meetings with the Governor, the commissioner, the health department and researching CDC guidance online,” Unzicker said. “As administrators, we’ve spent hours discussing how to make this work. We’re doing our best to follow what should be the general guidelines you folks approved. Anytime you make a change, and put another specific requirement in, that changes a lot of work we’ve done. With six-foot distancing outside, we’re trying not to break your plan and upset you.”
Unzicker suggested the board increase the amount of involvement in order to make changes to the plan.
“The board’s task is to set policy,” said Unzicker. “My task is to lead what that policy says. So, the overview I’ve got out of this is as few restrictions as possible, you want a normal day. Well, I’m trying to enforce that, and then we turn around and you want to limit visitors here, and we want six-foot distancing here, and we want this here. You guys need to be involved in our meetings every week, or twice a week, if you want to make all these decisions.
“Because, there’s so much information you need to know before you can make that decision,” Unzicker said. “What I need from you guys, and I understand that in March, the majority of this board must have disagreed with the decision to close the buildings. I still stand behind it. We did the best we could do educationally, and we understand we didn’t perform at the same level we would have if they were here. Going forward, we’re trying to do things to make that better, but I need you guys here way more often than once a month if you want to make this detailed of a decision. I need you twice, three times a week, because if you want to talk about six foot lines outside, we’ve got lines going to the bathroom, we have lines going to recess, we’ve got lines going to lunch. We’ve got a million things that the administrators have to consider.”
Unzicker said the suggested guideline updates discussed at the Aug. 10 meeting were not what the board told him to implement a week prior. He told the board members that he is not opposed to implementing more safety measures.
“I’m trying to follow your general guidance, so you can’t be specific in one area that doesn’t match this guidance, because then that confuses all of us,” Unzicker said. “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells already. I’m not against it. You saw my original plan. This is the low-risk version. The moderate plan had a lot more things in place, which, if you had adopted my plan, we would be in. But, that’s not what I heard last week.”
After some more discussion about the proposals, the board members decided to take no action on the revisions to the plan.