Along with the traditional school supplies like pens, pencils and planners found on teachers desks, school staff have this year added items such as masks, hand sanitizer, infrared thermometers and tape measures to the collections of items on their desks. 

With hallways similar to roadways, and a mandatory 6-foot distance in common gathering places such as the classroom and lunch line, the Faribault school district has navigated the various state guidelines and safety protocols to keep a safe environment for both staff and students.

In following guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education, the district began its school year in a hybrid scenario, meaning elementary and secondary students would have different schedules to best meet their learning needs.

All frequently touched surfaces would be cleaned and disinfected at least daily, and students, staff and visitors will be required to wear face coverings in district buildings and on buses. Students at Faribault High School attend school (in-person) two days per week. The district's COVID-Preparedness Plan states middle and high school students are split in two groups: group A who attends in-person learning Monday and Tuesday and distance learning at home on the other days, and group B, who attends in-person learning Thursday and Friday and distance learning at home the other days. Since Wednesdays are distance learning days for all students, more time is available for individual student interventions, enrichment, planning for instruction and deep cleaning in the building, in addition to daily cleaning. 

Inside Faribault High School

Hand sanitizer stations and green arrows greet students as they walk into the building down the hallways toward their classes. Faribault High School Principal Jamie Bente says school staff move the hand sanitizer stations throughout the day so that they are in places where the students will be, for example by the entrances in the morning and at intersections in the hallways throughout the day. 

All students and staff are required to wear a mask in the building, in addition to frequent hand washing, social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting protocols and monitoring personal health. 

When lunch hour hits, classes are released strategically in groups to limit students criss crossing in the hallways as much as possible. Bente says each of four groups consist of three to four classrooms pulled from opposite areas of the building, so all classrooms are not released at once. Pieces of green tape spaced 6 feet apart lead students to the lunchroom one by one. Instead of eating lunch in the lunchroom with others, students either have the option to eat outside or in their homeroom. Once they choose one destination, Bente says they stay in that spot for the remainder of the lunch hour, that way there's no coming and going. 

Classrooms are set up to provide social distancing and reduced to approximately 12-18 students at the middle school and 15-21 students at the high school depending on the size of the class and space available. In the band room, the typical horseshoe-formation has been altered to follow social distancing guidelines. The Performing Arts Center in the high school has also become the new home for choir, as there's more room to spread out on the stage. 

Sept. 10 was the first day all students in the first group were present in school; Sept. 8-9 were only for the ninth graders. Given the new rules, Bente says the students were adjusting really well.

"I've been really impressed by the students when they're in this building," said Bente. "When they're in this building, they have done what we've asked them to do and we haven't had students say they don't want to wear a mask, yet or had any social distancing issues. So far it's been easier to work with the kids than the adults. You could just see it, they were just happy to be here and smiling with their eyes."

Reach reporter Michelle Vlasak at 507-333-3128 or follow her on Twitter @apgmichelle. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.  All rights reserved.

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