Students return to all-in school as district braces against possible spreading of coronavirus

Zach Trabitz (left), Ru Sivaraman (center), and Allison Taylor (right) walk together through the hallways on the first day of all in-person school while all wearing the district distributed masks. (Photo by Margaret Zirwas)

Students and staff started attending in person school every day Tuesday, March 23 as the district moved forward with its plan to safely return all five schools to an all-in learning mode.

Director of Operations Harley Williams explained that the district made three main changes to the functions of the schools: reorganizing classrooms for proper social distance, overhauling how lunch will be organized and requiring that students double mask.

The biggest change has been shifting from a required six feet of distance to three feet of distance in the buildings, Williams said. Classrooms and furniture have been adjusted to accommodate this change, he added.

Williams explained that while three feet of distance between individuals may sound like a new protocol, it is the same spacing as the district was operating in before the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, Williams said that even though classrooms are operating at three feet of distance, students must maintain six feet of distance between one another while eating since they cannot remain masked.

Williams explained that at the Cassingham complex, the middle school eats first, followed by the elementary school and then the high school. Additionally, the elementary school eats lunch in the cafeteria, while the middle school and high school students can eat at tables set up in the wrestling room and the high school gym. However, when the weather is nice, high school students will be encouraged to eat outside and elementary students will be required to sit outside, so the cafeteria will have seating for high school students, Williams said.

The district also decided to increase the mask filtering requirements to counteract the spreading that might occur because of the decrease in distancing, he explained.

“We’ve increased the rules regarding the masks that students wear,” Williams said. “I don’t like the term ‘double masking.’ I think an appropriate phrase is that we want to ensure that there is a high level of filtering efficiency in the masks that we’re wearing.”

Along with those three main changes, Williams said the district has taken smaller steps to keep students and staff safe, including moving classes around the school to ensure that there is enough room for all of the students and removing the “One Way” stickers in the hallways.

“That way of organizing the hallways meant that kids were having to walk farther around the school to get to their classes, and those detours were sometimes causing students to be exposed to additional people,” Williams said. “We decided that getting the kids from class to class as quickly as possible would be the best solution.”

With the new changes, foreign language teacher Sherri Higgins said that she was excited to have all of her students in one room.

“Having students all here today was awesome,” Higgins said on the first day back. “There was great energy and it was lots of fun, and I felt like students were really happy to see each other.”

Higgins said she was worried about students not being familiar with each other when they returned, so she included many ice breaker activities in her lesson plan to help the A group and B group get to know each other. Although her class sizes became larger, distance wasn’t an issue, she said.

“I wasn’t nervous about people getting too close in the classroom,” Higgins said. “Everyone was really good about wearing their masks and keeping an appropriate distance.”

Senior Rheagan Miller also said she felt good about being back in the building every day, although she had reservations about the volume of students.

“One of the worst parts about today was the hallways,” Miller said on the first day back. “It was crowded and hot with everyone there, and I felt like I was really close to people.”

Miller said once she was in the classroom she felt safe and distanced, yet there were drawbacks to having a full classroom. She said that there was less one-on-one time with teachers, and she missed the smaller class size that came with hybrid learning.

As for the administration’s role in going all-in, Miller felt that the school had taken the necessary steps.

“I think the school did a good job in preparing us to go back through giving us masks and making sure that the school was safe,” Miller said.

Williams said he was impressed by the work done by the school and the efforts put in to make everything safe, but he was most impressed by the student body.

“I can’t express how proud I feel when I walk out in the hallways and see students keeping their six feet of distance and wearing their mask appropriately,” Williams said. “I’m very excited to have everyone back in the building.”