Green Lake School’s COVID-19 precautions will look a bit different when students return from spring break Monday, April 5.
That’s because the Green Lake School Board unanimously approved changes to its reopening plan Wednesday, which include putting elementary classrooms back together, serving lunch in the traditional lunch line, reopening the library and allowing open campus during lunch for grades 9 to 12.
Students and staff still will be required to wear masks in school. Elementary Principal Gina Baxter noted the changes were designed to improve students’ social and emotional health.
With Green Lake County’s coronavirus cases trending downward — along with low transmission within Green Lake School — and teacher vaccinations wrapping up Thursday afternoon, Baxter said administration felt it was the right time to make several changes to their reopening policy.
“We're really seeing that our students are struggling with social and emotional development at this time, and it's a struggle for teachers, too,” she said. “We want to look at the whole child, when we're thinking about what is best for our students; and since things have gotten better with COVID, we can actually think about that a little more now.”
She explained that the school consulted with Green Lake County Health Officer Kathy Munsey, who told administrators that they should continue with the mask mandate in school because it’s “the safest option.”
“It is what’s recommended even after teachers have their vaccinations, so that is not something that we would change,” Baxter said. “We will continue to have masking for our students and staff.”
Prior to the meeting, Green Lake School was keeping each grade level of elementary students split into two “cohorts.” Under the revised policy, the cohorts of elementary students will be combined in each grade level.
“We are going to social distance as much as possible,” Baxter said. “We will still take the same precautions in the classroom. Students will not be going around each other, they will not be working side by side; they will be distanced from wall to wall.”
Additionally, 7th grade, which is currently broken into two cohorts, will be combined back into one group again. Baxter noted the 8th grade class will remain split as it was not split because of COVID-19 but rather because it had a large class size.
In fact, 7th and 8th graders currently stay in one classroom all day, but following spring break, Baxter says they will go back to moving from classroom to classroom.
“We have seen that it's just not good for our students [to stay in one classroom],” Baxter said. “They need to move around, they need to get up and walk from one end of the hallway to the next.”
The elementary principal noted that allowing junior high students to move from one classroom to another shouldn’t increase COVID-19 transmission because the guidelines suggest that it takes 15 minutes of close contact with an infected individual to be at risk of transmission.
“We have watched enough camera footage of students being in the hallway [and] talking to other kids; we have calculated the time that they spent together when we've been doing contact tracing, and we have yet to see students around each other for a total of 15 minutes or more in the hallway,” Baxter said.
Beyond reuniting classes, Green Lake School also will start serving lunch through the lunch line again.
Classes will go down one at a time, sanitize and social distance through the cafeteria line, before going back to their classrooms to eat lunch, Baxter noted. After eating lunch, students will take their tray back down to the cafeteria, while complying with public health guidelines.
Baxter added that enabling students to use the lunchroom will cut down on waste as many of the plastic containers being used have gone in the garbage because they can’t be reused.
In addition, Green Lake School District Operations Director Tom Archambo noted the move could help the school save money as well.
“Coincidentally, we do have to reorder the food containers right after spring break,” Archambo said. “This would coincide with that so we don't have to reorder those and incur that additional expense this year.”
The modified plan also enables the school to reopen its library. Currently, Baxter noted students are ordering books online from the library.
“It’s not as conducive to building a reader as walking in the library and being around all of those books and having all of the options right there for you,” she said.
Reopening the library, Baxter says, enables students to physically go into the library and browse. She noted the school will continue its sanitization practices and promote social distancing in the library.
Another change that was made was opening the campus for grades 9 through 12, which will enable students to leave for lunch.
Baxter noted school administrators anticipate a rise in COVID cases following spring break, but not directly related to shifting protocols.
“We can’t get any definitive data on if this is causing quarantines, until we’ve been in school for four to five weeks after spring break,” she said.
School Board Treasurer Loni Meiborg commended school administrators for all they have done to keep students safe this year amid shifting public health guidelines.
“I completely trust your team's judgment; you have clearly monitored the situation from the very beginning and kept our kids safe and school open,” Meiborg said. “I really appreciate you keeping that caliber of safety even through this point.”