Walker County educators are using social distancing, frequent cleaning and common sense practices to combat the challenges COVID-19 poses for schools.
Four Walker County educators warned the school board in early August that the school system’s reopening plan would do too little to protect students and staff from the virus, citing the impracticality of social distancing and the lack of a mask requirement. They urged the board to include teachers in their COVID-19 planning talks and to consider virtual learning, which schools utilized to complete the 2019-20 academic year after their closures statewide in March, or blending virtual and in-person learning.
“We conduct random temperature checks on both students and adults each morning and follow our normal protocols for taking temperatures if someone is not feeling well during the day,” Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said.
Every student receives a no-touch temperature screening each morning before being allowed to enter the school, and anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher is sent home immediately, Melody Day, Chickamauga City Schools superintendent, said. All faculty and staff must take and record their temperature every day before students arrive.
“The district has always had extremely high standards for clean schools, but now, in addition to regular cleaning procedures, the standard has definitely been elevated,” Day stated. “We clean every student desk/table after every use. We clean high-touch surfaces numerous times each day or after every class — lunchroom tables/serving lines, doorknobs, keyboards, light switches, locker handles, weight room/p.e. (physical education) equipment, playground equipment …
“Water fountains are disabled, and bottle fillers have been installed in each school,” she said. “We have free-standing hand sanitizers everywhere and are using fogging machines regularly for deep cleaning and sanitizing. There are so many extra measures in place that there is no way to list them all.”
Walker County school buildings are marked for social distancing in areas including hallways, cafeteria and restrooms as a reminder, and classrooms have been arranged to the extent possible to accommodate social distancing for students and employees, Raines said.
“Masks or face coverings are strongly recommended for students and employees but not mandatory” in the Walker school district, Raines said.
Chickamauga schools do not require masks but are encouraging them.
Staff members are expected to wear their masks whenever they are in common areas of the school outside their classrooms, and on a bus, during class transition, in a dugout and in other situations when social distancing is difficult, students may be required to wear a mask, Day said.
For extra-curricular activities, bleachers are mapped for social distancing, and participants and spectators are asked to wear a mask. Once seated, they may be removed if they feel they are adequately social distanced, she said.
Parents have the ability this year to transport their own children to and from extra-curricular activities and to allow them to stay in their hotel room if it is an overnight activity, she said. No more than two students will be allowed to stay in a hotel room.
The school systems have prioritized social distancing, including signage. Day described some of the steps Chickamauga schools have taken.
Field trips, assemblies and any unnecessary gatherings are suspended for first semester and may be extended through second semester, Day said.
All students kindergarten through grade 12 have been given assigned seating to minimize the number of students exposed if a student does become positive for COVID-19, Day said.
“This also enables us to be extremely accurate in determining who would need to quarantine if a positive case occurs,” she explained.
Extra classroom furniture has been removed to allow for more space in each classroom and social distancing. In classrooms that are full, pie-shaped dividers are placed on student tables, she said, and individual shields are placed on some group reading tables with elementary students.
Chickamauga Schools instituted a no-visitors policy, and shields are in place for the school secretary/receptionist, the cashiers in the cafeterias and special circumstances, such as testing or speech therapy, she said. Each school has reworked the lunch schedule to minimize the number of students eating at one time.
The one grade level of elementary eats in the cafeteria at a time, with the students sitting only on one side of the tables and leaving spaces between each student, she explained.
The middle and high schools have each added sections of lunch to create smaller groups eating at one time, according to Day. The students have spaces between them and the next student, and their seating is staggered so that no one is sitting directly across from them. Middle school students also have assigned lunch seats.
On the playground, each class is being divided into two sections with half playing on one area of the playground today, then switching out to play on the other side of the playground tomorrow, thereby limiting the number of students in any area, she said.
“When the weather cools, we also plan to utilize more outdoor space for lunch and class time,” she said.
In addition to sanitation precautions, schools are also responding after a diagnosis.
“We have multiple cleaning protocols in place for deep cleaning when a case is confirmed,” Raines explained. “We fog and re-sanitize the classroom (and typically, the entire building) and/or bus, the air filters feeding the classroom are immediately changed, and everything is wiped down to make sure no residue remains.”
“We do not have a school nurse in every building; however, they work on a rotating schedule and every school has access to a nurse,” Raines stated. “Some schools do have a full-time nurse on staff due to other health issues being dealt with each day.”
One nurse serves the Chickamauga school district’s three schools, Day said.
Educators want students and their parents to know the school systems are following the guidance of the Georgia departments of Education and Public Health.
Raines said, “Above all, we want every student to know we love them, we care for them, and want them to not only be safe but to be the amazing students we know they can and will be for us!”