The Hamburg School Board voted Aug. 10 to revise its back-to-school plan to allow students to be on campus on Mondays.
The revision came in response to a state demand that schools be open five days a week. When recommending the revised plan, Hamburg Superintendent of Schools Tracy Streeter expressed her opposition to the change, which she said would not be best practices for the Hamburg district in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are not looking at a one-size fits all, we are looking at what’s best for our district,” Streeter said. “I completely understand that we have a childcare issue. I am not insensitive to that matter whatsoever. But what I am upset about is that you tell us this 18 days before school starts.”
The district had previously developed and approved a plan in conjunction with teachers and community members that staggered student in-person attendance and had all students engaging in digital learning alternatives on Mondays to allow for deep cleaning of school facilities. The plan was completed before the state deadline.
The state education department, however, told Streeter last week that the district had to offer in-person learning five days a week.
“I communicated with them, with my contact with the state department, that we are having school five days a week, that our kids are receiving new instruction every day,” Streeter said. “I was told that we have to make sure campuses are open five days a week to students who need instruction, intervention, support — whatever — regardless of what group they are assigned to.”
Streeter said she even spoke to the secretary of education about the matter.
The superintendent told the board that she has spoken with school districts across the state.
“There are a lot of school districts that are not going to do this, and there are a lot of school districts that are going to feel forced to make some changes that are not good for our district,” she said.
After meeting with teachers, the district administration came up with a new plan that is similar to the four-and-one plan that would have had Monday set aside for cleaning alone.
“(Monday) would be deep cleaning purposes, of course, and it would be that digital home day for learning with the option for a student to come to school for additional support as needed,” she said.
“Busses would not run that Monday because they have got to be deep cleaned; Tuesday through Friday, that would put any child that is not on the remote learning list at school.
“On Mondays, that would give us deep cleaning options, planning options, as well as student options that need to be there, so in essence parents would have childcare five days a week.”
Even as she explained the change, which the board ultimately approved, Streeter said she didn’t like it.
“I don’t think we can monitor or provide the precautions that I knew we could,” she said.
School board member Shawn Hickman, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year, expressed frustration at the state’s demand.
“How did the governor limit restaurants to 50 percent capacity but think we can fill the schoolhouse to 100 percent capacity?” she said. “I want this to come from somebody who had (COVID-19). I had to shut my life down for three weeks.
“These people who think they don’t have childcare now, they really aren’t going to then because they are going to have to shut their lives down.”
Board member Debbie Jackson also expressed concerns about students riding the bus.
“I know that entering into the school they are going to get their temperatures checked,” Jackson said. “Have y’all ever thought about them getting their temperature checked when they get onto the bus? You know some of these kids are not going to have their mask on from Wilmot to Hamburg. It’s a 15-minute window (from exposure to COVID-19 to infection). That’s going to be an issue there. That is where the infection is going to start, when we pick up the kids in the morning.”
Streeter said the district was going to ask parents to self-evaluate students every day in addition to screening them when entering the buildings. Later in the conversation, however, Hickman said that even though she had the cough and congestion COVID-19 has been noted for, she never ran a fever.
“I am not going to say that seeing a kid coughing is not going to send that kid to the isolation room; I am not telling you that it isn’t going to end with a phone call home,” Streeter said. “Everybody is not going to like the answers we are getting. They are inconvenient; they are hard; they quarantine; they don’t take any chances at all.”
But even though a lot of things are still unclear, Streeter said, Hamburg’s teachers are prepared to offer their best — even if that means going all digital.
“Our teachers are more prepared than any district I have talked to, and I have talked to them all,” she said.
School board President Bryan Hollis said that even though “there are a lot of YouTube warriors out there who have decided they know what is best for our district,” he has faith in the administration and teachers to make the best decisions for Hamburg schools.