When it comes to keeping surfaces clean and eliminating physical contact, school leaders are getting down to the nitty gritty.

Faribault Public Schools and Faribault Transportation Services are both following new and increased cleanliness and safety procedures this year to keep students and staff healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.

To prepare staff for the new protocols being implemented in the school buildings, Director of Teaching and Learning Tracy Corcoran organized a three-day workshop called the Unconference Week of Excellence Aug. 25-27. Staff members completed a series of online and in-person sessions to prepare for the year ahead.

During a session held in the Faribault High School auditorium the morning of Aug. 25, Faribault High School assistant principals Joe Sage and Shawn Peck and FHS Principal Jamie Bente told high school staff about the various ways the lunchroom and classroom procedures have changed to reflect health and safety guidelines.

Staff members watched an instructional video to learn about how and when to disinfect their classrooms. Teachers will receive a new towel each day and complete the cleaning process between each group of students. Teachers were instructed to never let students use the disinfectant.

For lunch, teachers will release students sporadically from different areas of the building to eliminate hallway traffic and reduce the number of students in the cafeteria at one time. Instead of following a bell schedule, teachers will listen to an announcement to know when it’s their turn to dismiss students. After a few weeks, Peck said teachers will have memorized the routine and won’t need to rely on the announcements.

Unlike most years, Peck said seniors will not be allowed to leave campus for lunch due to guidelines from health professionals. Students will use disposable lunch trays and dump them in garbage bins in the hallway outside the lunch room.

During the 60-minute lunch periods, teachers can take students outside for fresh air and movement. Teachers will be divided into pairs in which one supervises a classroom for half an hour while the other teacher escorts students to the lunchroom, and then they’ll switch for the second half of the period.

The district also modified its hallway pass procedure so students don’t touch the same pass. Instead, each individual student will receive a card stock pass, like a punch card with about 30 empty boxes. A teacher will need to sign a box each time a student asks to leave the classroom, and since students will only be in school two days a week, Peck said the boxes shouldn’t fill up fast. Students who fill up their passes during the school year may receive a new one.

One teacher at the Unconference asked how to handle hall wanderers during COVID-19. Peck said while staff wants students to attend school in person, those who don’t comply with the new rules will be given many second chances but ultimately encouraged to do distance learning if they can’t take the protocols seriously.

Riding the bus

Students who ride the bus will already start following new health and safety procedures before they step foot in their school buildings and continue following those regulations on the ride home.

Garrett Regan, manager of Faribault Transportation Service, said his company worked with Minnesota School Bus Operators Association (MSBOA), Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education to implement new procedures on the buses. Regan said he’s pleased with the Faribault Transportation staff, drivers and bus aids for meeting accommodations with customers and willingly adjusting to the new health and safety protocols.

“We feel good about where we’re at with this,” Regan said.

Before students ride the bus each morning, parents are asked to complete health screenings like temperature checks to ensure their child has no symptoms of COVID-19. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, Regan said temperatures should not rise above 100.4 Fahrenheit, and students who were in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 should not ride the bus. Bus drivers and bus aids will also complete health screenings each day.

Just like in the classroom, the mask or face covering requirement pertains to school buses as well. Drivers will also wear masks as students board the bus, but to ensure utmost concentration on the road, they may remove their masks while driving. To allow for more social distancing between the unmasked driver and students, the seat behind the driver will be left vacant.

Students will be asked to use the hand sanitizer provided as they board and leave the bus. To eliminate interactions, they will board the bus from back to front and students may only sit with those in their immediate households. Regan said the buses will be filled at half the usual capacity, and roof hatches and windows will be cracked open to improve ventilation.

Fewer students per bus means a modification in bus routes this year. Staggered pick up and drop off times allow for that flexibility. Rather than adding more buses on the road, Regan said drivers will pick up double routes as they continue serving all schools in the area.

After both the morning and afternoon routes, buses will receive deep cleanings using CDC-approved methods for disinfecting, including a spray proven effective against viruses.

Rather than activating consequences for students who refuse to comply with the safety procedures, Regan said Faribault Transportation will work to educate and inform. He plans to work with parents and schools to stress the importance of following guidelines with the ultimate goal of keeping everyone who rides the bus healthy.

If a student who rides the bus tests positive for COVID-19, Faribault Transportation would work with the child’s school and follow steps to trace potential exposures.

“We’ll make sure to notify others who have had an exposure, but our goal is to limit exposure just like in the schools,” Regan said.

Some families have decided not to have their students ride the bus this year due to the COVID-19, but Regan said there are no “hard and fast numbers” to show the significance of the reduction.

“That’s kind of expected with this,” Regan said. “As everyone has said, these are unprecedented times, and we’re all doing our best. We just want to do the best we can with our procedures, and we’re certainly open to answering any questions … We just want to do our part to get the students back in school, and we’re working hard to follow all the updates, and we look forward to a good school year.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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