TORRINGTON – An unsourced viral post on social media about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a minor panic online. But the real measures released by the CDC last week aren’t nearly as strict or cut and dry.
Goshen County School District No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Kramer said the district is working with local officials to determine the best way to educate local students in the fall.
“We’re working with other superintendents in the state to discuss what they’ve seen and interpreted, and to come up with some ideas moving forward,” Kramer said. “Our guiding principles have been centered around our own county health officials and working with them to find out exactly how to interpret it for Goshen County.
“Some of the guidance coming from all over is so mixed, and trying to navigate those mixed items, and following expectations they have set locally, is the most important piece for us.”
Kramer said COVID-19 will play a factor when it comes to reopening schools, but the district is seeking input from different sources to make sure that whatever protocol the district uses is the best one.
“We’re going to – as we look at those items and visit with our teachers and administrators, and our local county health officials – determine what is the best fit for us and what that might look like for our students coming in the fall, and even the ones coming shortly for our summer school activities,” he said.
“Right now, it’s probably a little too soon for where we’re at. Things keep changing. Every other week it seems like we have further guidance and things. Right now, we’re just generating ideas. What it will probably look like is a three-tiered system.”
Currently, Kramer said, the working plan is based on input from Goshen County Public Health and health data. And as it was in the world before the pandemic, the educational component will be the most important factor.
“The best case scenario is where we’ll return to almost traditional activities, incorporating social distancing components, to the worst case scenarios where we have a hybrid of some things with our online learning platform and face-to-face teaching,” he said.
“For me, the one question I’ve asked myself is ‘are we focused on the educational component, and is this going to be valuable educationally to students? Can we do it in a reasonable way to keep staff and students safe?’ Some of those recommendations, as I see them, I don’t see a feasible and realistic reflection of what school truly is for kids and we’re just relying on having them come in, to say we can have them come in. That is not the best safety protocol for students.”
While State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, Governor Mark Gordon and the CDC all contend that cloth face coverings can prevent the spread of the disease, they’re a contentious topic online. Kramer said there are scenarios where masks could play a role.
“It is possible, in that tier system that we talked about, that may be following one of those recommendations from the federal level or the state level,” he said. “What we’re going to rely on is our local county health experts, along with our state experts, in making sure of what they feel are the most important factors for our students here in Goshen County are going to be implemented.”
Online system will remain
Regardless of whether school is in person or online, GCSD No. 1 students and teachers will still utilize an online education interface. Kramer said the district will utilize Canvas as the district’s online entry platform. It has several advantages, he said, including streamlining the online process for students and parents.
“One of our student representatives was really hoping that our teachers, even in a traditional sense, would keep utilizing Canvas because that student really appreciated having that layout and having that ability to access it from home at any hour,” he said. “We’re learning as we go and incorporating some of those practices to make us better as we go so we can make those choices and adjustments for the fall.
“We’ve already said we’re… going to be utilizing this as our entry platform for K-12. We’re providing more training for our elementary staff to incorporate that. That’s just our entry platform. There are still a lot of things we utilize elementary-wise that will be incorporated in Canvas. Our entry point, K-12, for alleviating some of the confusion for parents will be Canvas.”
COVID-19 impact on extracurricular activities
The CDC guidelines encourage schools to pursue virtual group events and promote social distancing if events are held in person, and to convene sporting events “in ways that minimize the risk of transmissions of COVID-19.”
Kramer said that local youth and American Legion baseball seasons, and the results of the steps taken in light of COVID-19, will play a role in the way the district handles the 2020-2021 seasons.
“We’ll reference the guidance,” he said. “I see little league baseball and American Legion baseball starting up, and starting with their guidelines, that’s going to be an extra guiding principle when we look at those extracurricular activities. We’re working again with county health.”
Kramer said the district is also working with public health officials to find ways for athletes to train during the summer months for the upcoming seasons.
“We do a lot of extra activities in the summer to prepare for those seasons,” he said. “We’re working with them to generate guidelines for summer programs, for weightlifting programs, open gyms and things. We don’t know what it will truly look like this fall for us, but I imagine it will look similar to what we’re going to see in little league and legion baseball for our spectators, anyway.”