Bruce school administrators are working on a plan for the upcoming school year to keep students, staff and faculty safe with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic fears.

The Bruce school board met Monday, July 13 and discussed some of the concerns and steps that will be needed for the upcoming school year. At this time administrators are considering the option of either in-person learning or offering virtual learning for students. A blended format with both virtual and in-person learning has been discussed but hasn’t been decided upon.

The upcoming school year will look different than the last three months of the last school year. With more time to plan, administrators are expecting to have a more concrete plan as the new school year approaches.

Some of the safety concerns administrators have looked at in terms of social distancing are limiting the number of students on school busses, passing in hallways, seating arrangements in classrooms, lunch and recess. 

Virtual learning will take place on one platform across the grades to make it easier for students, teachers and parents.

One goal will be to have students outside as much as possible because Director of Instruction Carrie Wessmann said, research is showing COVID-19 is more aerosol based. Phy-ed and music are two of the classes that will likely be held outside.

Due to their importance, standard emergency drills will still be held periodically throughout the year. 

Loading and unloading of school busses will be staggered so students can social distance. The school will be limiting mass gatherings as much as possible. There likely could be no bells. Teachers will walk cohorts of students from classroom to classroom.

One tentative plan for in-person learning will have students at school four days a week and a work day at home. That day would be used to deep clean classrooms and other areas of the school.

Students would still have work to do on work days and would be given assignments before leaving the day prior and students will have access to teachers for help and questions. It has not been determined which day would be used as an at home work day.

Administrators are working with Rusk County public health and other county schools on a tentative plan. As more information becomes available, Bruce School Administrator Pat Sturzl said, “we’ll be working into the 11th hour with this.”

The goal will be to have as many students in school as possible, while still focused on student safety, said Sturzl.

The school has ordered 80 more Chromebooks for student use this year. This brings the school’s Chromebooks to 345 plus 20 older-style laptops. This will allow for less cleaning.

School board member Jodi Hopkins said pediatric research is coming out that shows three feet of social distancing with masks is sufficient. Six-feet of social distancing could be a challenging the hallways.

While masks are highly recommended, they will not be enforced with students, however staff and teachers will be required, according to Sturzl.

Wessmann told school board members that it will be important students stay in their cohorts throughout the day. Staying in the same cohort could minimize unnecessary spread of COVID-19 or other germs.

At this time, administrators are considering offering sports in the upcoming school year. The easiest sports to accommodate will be outside sports. 

School board president Dan Kempen questioned the point of offering sports this year when students will be required to be socially distanced on busses, on the court, only one athlete at the hoop. With the many precautions the school is taken, are sports worth the risk, asked Kempen.

Hopkins said it could be possible the school could keeps students and their athletes safe, even if not following the recommendations very specifically. Many of the recommendations are generalized statements and set for larger schools, like Milwaukee, and Hopkins believes if the school is smart, it could still be safe for the athletes to perform.

Competing within the conference, with smaller schools from areas where COVID-19 hasn’t had the same impact could be way for athletes to still play.

Kempen asked if a survey could go out to parents for their input into the decision.

The issue of deciding to have or not to have sports this year could impact enrollment. Hopkins said she would like to see some leeway in the recommendations to consider how the pandemic has affected the area at the county level, not just the state level.

In other news, Sturzl said the biennial budget is likely going to be adjusted due to the pandemic and economic downturn it has caused. Sturzl is expecting it to be not quite as bad as it could be.

School board members approved making improvements to the school’s HVAC system to install low maintenance air filter boxes to purify the air in classrooms and throughout the school. The air filter boxes are a proactive approach to student health, said Sturzl.

The air filter boxes could be in part funded by the CARES Act funds and could cost somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000.

School board member Dan Golat said, “this is a good area to be proactive in.” He was in favor of doing the whole project, saying it was a reasonable and good place to put money toward.

School board members approved authorization for administrators to move forward with bids and the project with a project budget of $50,000.

The next Bruce school board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10.

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