Hampton school plan not yet finalized due to COVID-19

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■ Board approves handbook, which will likely change

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The Hampton Public School Board discussed several issues Monday related to safety precautions that will be required to start the school year Aug. 12, ultimately realizing that it’s too soon to set policies and schedules in stone due to the rapidly changing status of the COVID pandemic.

“Our plan is not finalized because it’s going to change again,” Supt. Holly Herzberg advised the board during its regular July meeting. “We know we have to have plans in place to do the best we can because we can’t wait until Aug. 10 to create our plan. As stressful as it was to start talking about it, it was calming to know what we need to focus on.”

The district’s teaching staff and crisis committee began meeting on site last week, Herzberg reported, with discussions focused on the colored COVID-19 risk dial. That tool, which health officials will use to determine and rate the current status of the pandemic health risk, will determine what procedures are in effect for that day based on whether the dial is in the green (low risk), yellow (moderate risk), orange (high risk) or red (severe risk) zone.

“We can manage yellow pretty well,” Herzberg noted. “If we get to orange it gets a lot more strict and if we’re on red they are telling us we are basically shut down. We feel like we have to have some kind of guidance and so this is what we’re using.”

As of Monday, the dial status was listed as yellow for the Central District Health Department, though Herzberg noted how quickly that can change. She cited a recent example in Lancaster County, which went from yellow to orange within a few days time.

“The risk dial is what will guide us as a school district for how we carry on this year,” she said. “We are now working on the risk level policies.”

Handbooks approved

Board members approved student and teacher handbooks Monday, with several changes addressing COVID-related protocol. Again, Herzberg advised that the handbooks are subject to change this year, creating the unprecedented probability that additional changes will have to be made without full board review or approval.

“Typically these handbooks are done by now, but we still don’t have all the updates because we don’t know,” she explained. “I recommend adoption tonight and then we will probably have to authorize the superintendent to make changes on the fly.”

Board member Matt Arndt noted that parents are typically asked to sign a signature page confirming that they have received and read the student handbook. He asked if parents would have a chance to sign off on policy changes as they are made.

“Depending on what new policies look like, I have a little concern that parents will say they don’t know,” he said.

Herzberg said parents will be notified of changes through the district’s information system, adding that the current policies will be posted on the district’s website with changes highlighted in yellow.

“Parents are going to have to understand that there are things in there that are going to change on a day-to-day basis, but we have to have language in there,” she said. “I would say in August I will have more direction about the resolution that basically allows us to make administrative decisions on the fly because we’re going to have to. I don’t like it any more than anyone else but we’re just going to have to do it.”

Among the handbook changes discussed Monday were open campus, sick days and morning arrival times.

In the past, students were allowed to go home or walk to the C-Store for lunch. Herzberg pointed out how that could be a problem in the COVID era.

“As administrators we have to start thinking about how we are going to manage those kids who are leaving,” she said. “If they go home with a parent we don’t have a problem with that, but our concern is if we should allow our students to walk all over town and then come back in.”

The recommended change, which was eventually approved, was to delete the sentence which allows students to walk to the C-store during the lunch hour, though the change may be a one-year adjustment. In another lunchrelated item, Herzberg noted that students will be served in four shifts rather than the normal two, due to social distancing requirements which limit the number that can be served at one time.

On that note, Herzberg also recommended that a full-time para/custodian flex position be created for this year.

“Working through what it takes to keep different spaces clean we are worried about having enough hands,” she explained. The flex position would provide someone that could work as a para, or help with sanitizing and cleaning as needed.

“We feel like this would be a good time cleaning and sanitizing wise to have an extra set of hands, at least for a year,” she said. “I think it would be a great investment for our kids and our school.”

Another change addressed school attendance for partial days when a student is ill but still wants to participate in athletic practices or ball games.

“In a normal year it’s a headache, but when you start thinking about what’s going on if you have to go home at noon because you don’t feel good then you shouldn’t come back to practice this year,” she said. “We really don’t think it’s in our best interest to allow kids to go home to sleep for a couple of hours because they don’t feel good and then come back so we’re proposing they be here by 10 o’clock or you don’t practice or play in a game.”

With the revised policy, the principal and athletic director, Brad Feik, could evaluate any extenuating circumstances.

As for when students arrive on campus, Herzberg said that too will have to be more strict this year.

“Kids arriving in the building will have to go somewhere because they are no longer going to be able to congregate,” she noted. “We love that you want to get here early, but we really need to encourage parents that we don’t want kids here early.”

Teachers will be asked to arrive by 7:45 a.m. remaining on duty until 3:45 p.m. Students arriving at 7:45 will have to report to a classroom, with school officially starting at 8:15 a.m.

Two other changes were recommended which had nothing to due with COVID. One will change the definition of a dangerous weapon in both the school handbook and related district policies. That definition will now include personal safety or security devices such as tasers, mace or pepper spray. Those items will be allowed, but only if the district is advised that a student plans to carry them.

The second policy recommendation involved essential oils in the classroom, which will no longer be allowed since use in a confined space could be disruptive to some students.

In other business, the board reviewed and approved a number of policy changes, which is typical for the July meeting before the start of a new school year. Those policies addressed concussion protocol involving parental communication of symptoms; search and seizure related to the new definition of dangerous weapons; and citing of the Pledge of Allegiance in all classrooms.

Board positions open

Herzberg began Monday’s meeting by thanking Karl Block for his six year of service on the board. Block announced last month that he is resigning, since he and his family will be moving to Hastings. He plans to commute to his job each day in Aurora.

Herzberg reported that she has been contacted by four people interested in serving on the board. She advised the board that someone will be appointed to fill the spot at the Aug. 10 meeting.

She also noted that two other board positions are to be filled in the November election. Neither Jeff Hansen or Matt Arndt filed to run for re-election. Derek Klute put his name on the ballot, leaving one position to be determined by write-in. If that position remains unfilled after the election, Herzberg said it will have to be filled by appointment.

In other business, the board:

* conducted a public hearing on student fees, parental involvement and wellness policies, which drew no public input;

* reviewed the final rendition of a mural to be placed in the front entrance area;

* heard an update on the tuck-pointing project now being completed;

* heard a report from new principal/AD Brad Feik regarding summer conditioning schedules;

* heard a report from Elementary Principal Angie Arndt that there are currently 80 students enrolled for the fall semester, with an additional 33 students signed up for preschool.

Back-to-school night is scheduled for Aug. 11, the day before school is to begin Aug. 12. Families will be asked to come in shifts in order to control traffic flow.

‘Our plan is not finalized because it’s going to change. As stressful as it was to start talking about it, it was calming to know what we need to focus on.’

Supt. Holly Herzbeg

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