TONTOGANY – Otsego students will return to the classroom for a full week of lessons this fall, wearing masks.
Superintendent Adam Koch reviewed the district’s reopening plan at a special board meeting Wednesday.
He said that the plan could change if coronavirus circumstances require a switch to a hybrid school day or online-only lessons.
Koch said the district will need to be flexible for the health and safety of students and the community.
“This situation is a lot bigger than ourselves, and we need to do this together and for each other,” he said. “The plan is not going to make everyone happy. We know that. I just hope everyone understands that we need do all we can to mitigate some risks and work together.”
That plan, which Koch said is a fluid document, includes all students attending classes five days a week. Masks will be required at all times except while eating lunch.
“One thing we have to do, is we have to have a mask policy,” Koch said. “We believe this is a big factor in keeping our kids and our staff members safe.”
Board member Jamie Harter agreed.
“We’re doing it for the safety of our students. I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Harter said.
Classified union President Jen Asmus and certified union President Pam Heyman said their members supported wearing masks.
Heyman said the mask policy will protect both students and staff so leaders can realize their goal of getting students back to school. She called the mandating of masks the line drawn in the sand.
“If this saves one child,” Asmus said pointing to her mask, “this is worth it to me.”
Valid doctor notes will be accepted, and face shields will be available in those cases. Every student will be given the opportunity for a face shield and every student will be given one Otsego Knights face mask.
Masks will be mandated on buses, with masks made available for anyone without one.
Frequent masks breaks will be given, Koch said.
Board President Brad Anderson said the plan, which is 11 pages long, is well thought out.
“As we sit here today things can change and we have to be able to pivot on a dime,” Koch said.
Plan 1 is for all students to be in class five days a week with masks. Social distancing will occur as much as possible, even in the lunchroom. Kids will sit two per seat on buses and buses will be cleaned after each route. Cleaning will be done between classes and on touch points. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the buildings, in each classroom and on the buses.
Deep cleaning will be done every night with electrostatic sprayers.
Plan 2 is a hybrid system where students are placed in two groups, one that attends Tuesdays and Thursdays and one that attends Wednesdays and Fridays. Mondays will be 100% online.
“We will work to that plan if Wood County is in a level 3,” Koch said.
The county was placed in level 3 last week.
If the county is in level 4 when school is set to start in August, the district may go to Plan 3, which is full-time online learning.
“It will look different, it will feel different” than what was done in the spring when schools first closed because of coronavirus, Koch said.
“Our goal is to be on Plan 1 as long as possible … and in order to do that, the masks are going to be a big part of that,” he said.
Board member Jessica Melh asked if school were to start that day, what plan would be used.
Koch said with the county at a Level 3 he would check with the Wood County Health Department to see if the district needed to go to the hybrid plan.
“I really support trying to get people safely here,” Harter said. “But we will never sacrifice the safety of people in this building.”
Families will be asked to sign an Otsego Pledge, in which they will agree to the importance of the district’s guidelines and pledge to follow them. They also must agree to self monitor their children at home and keep them home if they have a fever of over 100 degrees or show any symptoms. Arrangements must be made in advance to prepare for that possibility.
If parents do not feel comfortable sending their child back to school, online lessons will be provided for PreK-12 grades. A student must commit to online lessons for a complete semester. A survey will be sent to determine the number of students who will not return to the classroom.
Other changes include:
• Each student will only have access to one bus stop, so the morning and afternoon stop must be the same. Seats will be assigned so if a students gets sick, contact tracing will be easier.
• Transportation will only be provided to students identified as special education preschool as required by law. No transportation will be provided to all other preschool students.
“Bear with us. It’s not going to be easy,” Harter said.
“There’s a lot of things that could change, there’s a lot of things we need to figure out yet, but that is our plan as we sit here today,” Koch said.