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Safety measures in place for Auburn students in hybrid learning

Auburn Reporter - 3/5/2021

Before the bells rang March 3, the 200 students in kindergarten through fifth grade bound for hybrid learning in ASD's elementary schools were to have already answered two questions at home from their parents:

"Do you have symptoms, and have you associated with any person infected with COVID-19?"

When they got to school, kids lined up outside their classrooms on painted dots, one kid per dot, as the teacher opened the door and checked on a Chromebook to see if each had completed that wellness check.

If the student had done so that day, he or she walked into class. But if the answer to either question was "yes," the teacher told the student to walk a spray-painted orange line to the gymnasium, where officials behind Plexiglas would complete the wellness check.

Of course, the district doesn't spare staff, administrators or teachers the treatment — the grown-ups have to complete the same wellness check every day.

Adults and visitors who aren't connected with the schools get the go-over at a check-in station just inside each school's main entrance, where once the sign-in pens are used, even they are dropped into a cup and disinfected before re-use.

And of course, everyone will be wearing masks.

Those are among the many measures the Auburn School District has put in place in elementary schools before it launched hybrid learning on Wednesday.

"We've got a lot in place," said Mike Weibel, principal at Terminal Park Elementary. "What we've really got in place is a good, coherent plan. We've done tours with the staff so they know where they're going and they know what to do. We are set for kids to be here. We're excited about it."

COVID-19 signs and notification are everywhere, along with cleaning kits for every classroom, educational technology, including hot spots, webinar licenses, headsets, educational programs and mental health services and support.

There is even a special "separation room" for a kid who has passed the wellness checks, but as the day wears on develops, say, a case of the sniffles. In that room, staff in full gowns wearing N95 masks will watch over and tend to the kid's needs until parents come to pick him or her up.

Before kids get on their buses, they get a squirt of hand sanitizer. The bus drivers will clean their buses, and at the end of the day, disinfect the buses. Cleaning removes the germs, and disinfectant at the end of the day kills the germs.

"We have also increased ventilation in all of our schools," said Cindi Blansfield, ASD's Associate Superintendent for Business and Operations, among the many district officials who have been working for a year to make reopening possible. "The purpose of that is to make sure everything is working appropriately.

"We have increased the amount of outside air that is coming in, so that reduces the recirculation," Blansfield added. "We have lengthened the amount of time that air is moving to two hours before school, two hours after school. We're going to run our systems as though all 700 kids were here to maximize the amount of air flow."

Districtwide, 48 percent of ASD's families have decided their kids would come back in person, while the rest will stay online.

The district has also created a P.M. Program to provide an opportunity for those families where the parents work all day and cannot supervise and support their kids all day with instruction.

What that means is that at about 3:30 or 4 p.m., those kids will get online, and after their dinner break, they will start work at their schools at 7 or 7:30 p.m.

"It's more helpful for our families, and it's good for kids," said Blansfield. "Right now, we have about 400 kids in the P.M. Program, and it will go down to about 300 districtwide."

In the classrooms themselves, all the desks are physically-distanced, and the Chromebooks are cased so the kids can take them safely to and from school. Each classroom is supplied with a gallon of sanitizer and a cleaning kit. And every day, every kid gets his or her own microfiber cloth.

"So every day, when they're done at their desks, a teacher will go around and spray the desk, the kiddoes will take their microfiber cloth, wipe it down, and drop it in a bucket. And everyday, custodians will come and grab the buckets to take them out to get them laundered, and every day, each classroom will get new cloths," said Blansfield.

The focus at the elementary level is handwashing, and the district has installed a handwashing station in every one of its elementary school portables. That safeguard is not necessary inside the schools, as each classroom already has indoor facilities.

Marlene Hanson, a 4th-grade teacher ensconced in one of Terminal Park Elementary's portables, is grateful for that and is looking forward to having the kids back.

"I really miss 'em," Hanson said. "I am very excited to come back. You know, I wish it was all over."

The focus on secondary schools when the middle and high schools open up later in the spring will be on hand sanitizer dispensers outside every secondary classroom.

To sum it all up in terms of volume, the district has 30,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 175,000 reusable face coverings for students and staff, 450,000 KN95 masks, and 38,200 microfiber cloths for each week.

The $3.2 million that paid for all of that stuff came from the federal government, through the state and to the district via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The district has already spent every cent of its initial ESSER funding.

The ASD was also part of a cooperative to order Personal Protective Equipment, and its initial order for face coverings, face shields and hand sanitizer came to $525,000.

Overall for grades K-12, 52 percent of families chose to stay with the online program, and 48 percent are returning to hybrid. Out of approximately 400 students in the elementary P.M. Program, 275 will continue in that program now that school is open.