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School scheduling

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Graduation date, changes for school reopening are discussed by Board

HARTINGTON – Hartington-Newcastle School Board members are grappling with how to best close out the 2019-20 school year and how to start the 20-21 year.

Graduation for the Class of 2020 had originally been planned for May, but those plans had to be scrapped because of COVID-19. The event was then tentatively rescheduled for Aug. 1.

Monday night School Board members debated the pros and cons of moving the event up just in case there is a resurgence of the virus and to increase the chances of more seniors participating.

“We received guidance all spring long to choose a date in late summer,” Supt. A.J. Johnson said. “Now, after discussion with Health Dept. officials, there is concern as things open up that we could see a spike.”

No decision was made Monday, but Board members instead directed Supt. Johnson to take a poll of parents to see if they prefer June 27 or Aug. 1 for graduation.

The Board was in agreement, however, on one thing — a firm date must be decided upon this week to give parents, students and staff time to prepare. The State Health Department is also waiting for the school’s decision.

Once a verdict has been reached, Johnson said he will get the word out to the public so they can begin making plans.

No matter what date is chosen, graduation will look quite a bit different this year.

The current state-mandated limit on gatherings allows for 25 percent of gym capacity. When floor space is factored in, the capacity of the HNS gym is about 1,300, which means about 325 people would be allowed in the gym, Johnson said.

Board members then asked Johnson if the Hartington Community Complex could be used instead of the gym. Johnson said that could be an option, but it would present a lot of challenges because of weather concerns.

If the gym is used, each graduate would only be allowed to invite a certain number of guests to the event. Tickets would then need to be issued to all guests. Johnson said.

“This is not an unprecedented practice. In the larger schools, this happens all the time,” he said. “We’ve just never had to do that here before.”

The graduates would all have to sit six feet apart. Families would be allowed to sit together, but will have to be seated six feet from anyone else.

The new set up also means no band or chorus will be on hand to perform.

Even though the 2019-20 school year hasn’t officially been closed out, school administrators are now busily preparing for the start of the new school year, which begins Monday, Aug. 17.

Some changes will need to be made, though, to make sure the school is safe in this new COVID-19 world.

Most high school classrooms are now utilizing two-person tables for student seating. Having students so close to each other would cause problems with current social distancing guidelines, though.

The School Board gave Johnson permission to purchase 150-200 student desks at $195 each to be used in place of the tables.

“Those tables just are not going to work anymore in order to appropriately distance the students,” he said. “We should be able to do that better with desks.”

Johnson said they are going to start measuring classrooms to see how many desks they can safely accommodate.

They estimate a room that now fits 12-13 tables could fit up to 22 desks. Johnson said they may also

Johnson said they may also have to move some classrooms around. They also have extra scheduling work to do to make sure they don’t have too many kids in one classroom.

”It might just be easier to have the kids carry their desks with them from classroom to classroom,” Principal Corey Uldrich joked.

In order to provide more classroom space, the current high school library has been dismantled and has been joined with the elementary school library.

Plans call for the high school library to be converted into two separate classrooms.

Social distancing guidelines could also cause problems with bussing, “because we have a couple of busses that are really packed on their routes,” Johnson said.

This might mean an additional route will need to be in place, or back-up busses may need to be used, he said. The possibility of using vans for some routes is also being considered. At this point, all options are on the table.

Johnson is in constant communication with state education officials. The state has assured local school officials they want to give those districts more power for local decision-making in the fall, Johnson said.