Kennett School Board Deals with School Reopening Options
By Steven Hoffman
Public interest in the details of this year’s Kennett Consolidated School District reopening was so high on Monday night that attendance at the board meeting, which was held using Zoom videoconferencing, maxed out at 300 people.
School board president Joe Meola apologized to the folks who could no longer log on, but promised to work on expanding virtual reach in the future.
Those who logged in seeking information on what was coming at the beginning of school may not have received a definitive answer, however.
Superintendent Dusty Blakey said he and his committee studied two possibilities: in-person student attendance and virtual instruction, but he is now seeking another option. He explained recent feedback he had received from the public that prompted him to pursue a third option: a hybrid combination of in-person and virtual.
He asked the board to table the issue and let him develop the details of the third [hybrid] option. Blakey said that he would complete the work within two weeks and present the information to the board.
“It is a fluid document as the COVID-19 changes,” he said.
The board unanimously approved his request.
Curriculum director Lydia Hallman explained that she and her committee had fine-tuned the district’s distance learning that was utilized last spring in the face of the pandemic shutdown. She said they have developed a product that is more structured and rigorous. They call it “Kennett Virtual Academy.”
This enhanced curriculum parallels the material that is taught in the Kennett classrooms and is focused on grade level skills. It will include whole-group, small group instruction as well as reinforcement, student support and independent study. It is a six-hour-a-day program for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, she added.
Blakey said that within a week the district would publish online what the virtual schedule would look like. He said the current results of parental surveys revealed, among other things, that about 75 percent of the respondents favored in-person return to school, compared with 18 percent favoring virtual education
Blakey also reported on the graduation, which, after it was cancelled, drew strong public reaction.
The initial decision prompted a revision in the form of a letter to stakeholders from high school principal Jeremy Hritz. The letter stated:
“…(we) received feedback from the community and reflected upon it and how we could safely have some type of in-person celebration. As a result, we are going to provide a drive-in celebration…on July 25 at Kennett Middle School…”
Blakey explained that there would be two celebrations starting at 10 a.m.
The board also received a report from athletic director Sean Harvey as well. He had the task of overseeing summer training for fall sports.
Harvey prefaced his presentation by saying that the playing of all fall sports is still up in the air based on decisions by regional experts and government regulations. His task at hand is to keep athletes safe during their practices, which begin on Aug. 10 for football and a week later for the other sports.
“We do not know what the fall is going to bring,” Harvey said.
Some of his recommendations on summer workouts include daily health screenings, hand sanitizing, social distancing, players taking home and washing equipment, player-owned water bottles with no water fountains available, and for all practicing to be held outside.
“Our coaches are bringing our kids back safely and slowly,” Harvey said.
Director of Facilities and Construction George Wolhafe reported on the actions his department has taken and will take in preparation for in-person student returns to school.
He said that the district has made sure that outside air-continual fresh air is running 24 hours a day even on days when school is not in session. Their filters have been changed and cleaned as well.
Additionally, water fountains have been turned off. There is one bottle filling station in each building. Rooms that don’t have sinks for hand-washing will have hand sanitizing stations installed. Custodial staff will work during each day making rounds hourly. And every evening they will return to clean and disinfect the buildings.
Meola said the district will produce a video that showcases the answers to frequently asked questions. He added that although the board traditionally has no August meeting, it will this year with so many vital decisions to make.
“Probably more than one [meeting],” Meola said.