SCHOOLS SCHEDULED FOR ON-TIME START
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Officials from Freeman Academy, Freeman Public and Menno Public schools are making plans to start the 2020-21 term as planned. Menno will be the first to return to the classroom with half-days planned Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18 (1 p.m. dismissals).
Freeman Public will start its new school year with a half-day on Wednesday, Aug. 19 (1 p.m. dismissal) while Freeman Academy will begin Wednesday, Aug. 26, with a full day of instruction.
While the schools are moving forward with the start of the school year as originally planned, all are doing so with safety in mind. Because the coronavirus epidemic continues, officials have been considering how to reopen in a way that mitigates the potential spread of COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, schools have been closed to the public since the third week of March.
“The overall tone has been, yes, we want to do what we can to get back to school, but we’ve also been very clear to do what we can in terms of mitigation strategies,” said Nathan Epp, head of school at Freeman Academy. “We’re also trying to be very clear to people that the decisions we are making now may change as we get more information.”
“Do we have a concrete plan? No,” says Tom Rice, superintendent at Menno Public Schools who is working with the Menno Education Association to come up with a plan and just completed a survey of parents in the district. “We are very much in the shaping and molding phase.”
“Some of our parents are concerned, some are not,” he continued. “I’m sure it’s that way everywhere.”
“I would echo that,” said Kevin Kunz, superintendent at Freeman Public who also surveyed parents of the district. “It’s all over the board in terms of what people are thinking. Some are concerned, some have no concern whatsoever and quite a few people are in the middle.”
Epp said a survey and meetings with parents, local health care officials and guidance from both the South Dakota Department of Health and Department of Education have all helped the school navigate this unique situation.
“We’re fortunate that we have access to conference calls with those organizations,” he said.
All three schools say they are contemplating how to handle the use of masks; Epp said, as of now, students will be required to have a face covering with them when they come to school, but not necessarily wear it at all times. Rice said he would like to see students wear masks when moving from class to class, when distancing isn’t as easy, and Kunz said that, as of now, masks will be encouraged but not mandated.
“If kids want to bring their own they can,” he said. “We will also have them available.”
And all three administrators said they will do their best to accommodate their students and teachers as best they can, with safety in mind as the ongoing situation dictates.
“I would like to ease as much tension as I can,” Rice said.
Kunz said families who are uncomfortable sending their children to school will be given a chance to keep their students enrolled and learn from a distance.
“That’s definitly an option,” he said. “What that looks like we’re not sure, but we certainly respect that decision from parents if they feel it’s in their best interest to keep their kids at home. We’ll work with them as best we can.”
Epp said he still has some concerns about athletics.
“You’re going to have a lot more community gatherings where local spread is possible,” he said. “We haven’t really seen the spikes here, but when you’re packing spectators together, that might change. We just have to understand that and make the best decisions with the information we have.”