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Danville schools begin planning for a possible opening day

August 25 will be the first day of classes for students in the Danville School district and teachers will begin on Aug. 15 — if the school board’s plans aren’t altered due to a COVID-19 flare-up.

The board voted to approve its upcoming school calendar with the mid-August start date for teachers, and classes to begin 10 days later for students. A one-week fall break and an additional one-week off for Thanksgiving holiday may be considered at a later date.

The board also decided that school days will be seven hours, which is 30 minutes longer than previous days in order to provide extra time for students to have their temperatures taken before entering the buildings, transition between classrooms practicing social distancing, and increased cleaning protocols.

However, the board said that calendar adjustments may still occur if there’s another COVID-19 outbreak and non-traditional instructions days have to be implemented.

Superintendent Dr. Tammy McDonald said officials are continuing to figure out how bus transportation will work with social distancing and sanitizing of the areas, as well as how bathroom breaks will be handled, and lunches will be served (either in classrooms or in the cafeterias.)

The district’s central office sent out surveys last week to families who have students in Danville schools, as well as to staff members, asking if they felt comfortable having children in school for face-to-face instruction, and what they deemed as the most important safety protocols to follow during regular school days.

By Monday morning, a total of 830 respondents had answered.

The answers from parents or guardians of children who attended Hogsett elementary, Toliver Intermediate, Bate Middle and Danville High schools varied slightly.

A few of the questions families were asked include:

  • What is something that would make you  more likely to attend school in person? The top answers included that all staff be wearing face masks; a consensus among the medical community that it is safe to do so; and the number of new infections of COVID-19 in Boyle County decreases.
  • Assuming students are physically present in the school building, what are the safety measures you would like to see in 2020-2021? The top three answers were identical for all four schools — students are to have temperatures checked before entering the building; no shared school supplies; and limit non-essential visitors.
  • If your child returns to school, where would you feel safe allowing your child to eat lunch? Every school survey showed that parents preferred that lunch be served in the classrooms and not in the cafeterias.
  • If Kentucky deems it safe and allows schools to physically open for the 20020-2021 school year, and the district follows all of the Boyle County Health Department guidelines, would you prefer face-to-face student-teacher learning; or prefer full distant learning with NTI? By a range of 81.1% to 86.% between the schools, people wanted their children to attend school with face-to-face learning.

“Parents do really want to send their children back to school,” said board chair Steve Becker.

But if that can’t be done, the encouraging information that the survey showed is that the majority of people said they do have reliable internet access from home, so that their children could continue with their NTI lessons, Becker said. The percentages ranged from 94.7% to 96.9%.

One of the questions sent to the classified and certified staff  asked if they would be willing to go back to work if some, or all of the students wouldn’t be wearing a face mask. A strong majority said they would return to work.

That shows “the dedication of our employees. They will go to school even if kids don’t wear masks,” McDonald stated.

Teachers and staff also submitted “really good ideas” as to how returning to the classroom could be made safer, McDonald said.

For example, many teachers said that carpets and students’ group work tables could be removed from their classrooms to make more space available for social distancing.

And “overwhelmingly” most teachers said their own desks could be removed, McDonald added.

As the school days and calendars are being discussed in relation to COVID-19 precautions and protocols, and how it affects students, Becker said, “It’s important to get back to some sort of normalcy,” and that they must make decisions “with a multifaceted approach.”

In other school business:

  • The board voted to approve all phases of its Athletic Return to Play Plan, effective immediately. This plan will also guide how extracurricular activities, such as band practices, will take place.
  • Acknowledged personnel notifications including:

Retirements — Christy Denny, director of administrative services; and Mary Vonderbrink, instructional assistant,

Resignations — Mandy Tornstrom, third grade, Toliver; Diania Poyneter, teacher, Bate; Lindsey Sweis, instruction assistant, Hogsett; Beth Marlow, Director I, Wilderness Trace Child Development Center; Julie Hastings, instructional assistant I Hogsett; Jennifer Kiernan, speech therapist; Brandon Cooper, exceptional child instructor, Danville High School; Shirley Whisenant, second grade, Toliver; and Twila Arnold, exceptional child instructor, Toliver.

  • Congratulated Chassity Brady, visual arts teacher at Mary G. Hogsett Primary school and Sunrise Children’s Services after she was awarded the Lydia Ellis Innovative Arts Educator Award, from the Danville Schools Foundation and Alumni Association.