This blog is part of our return to learn blog series. For part 1, focusing on the hybrid learning model, click here.

Today’s guest is Brad Welles, Deputy Superintendent of Grain Valley Schools, who will discuss his school community’s experience of returning to school full time.

Q: What precautions are being taken to minimize the risk of COVID-19 within the classroom and during arrival, dismissal, and transitional periods? Has it been working, and what adjustments have you had to make? (e.g. temperature checks, sanitization, disinfection, limited shared surfaces, physical distancing, mask-use, physical barriers)

A: In our elementary schools, everyone is required to wear a cloth mask. Families and staff are expected to self-monitor their wellness and stay home from school when ill. With classes of 20-25 students, social distancing is not feasible, so there are other steps being taken such as assigned seating in the classroom and during lunch. During the school day, students wash their hands at scheduled times at least six times per day. High touch surfaces are disinfected throughout the day and classroom doors are propped open to limit touching.

These new systems are proving effective primarily because compliance has been thorough. However, due to the loss in state revenue during the spring closure, we have a budget shortfall at a time when expenses have increased.

Q: How have you changed the way you manage leisure and extracurricular activities?

A: Our sports teams are required to wear cloth masks when not directly engaged in vigorous activity. Outdoor sporting events are limited to 100 spectators. To comply with this county order at football games, each home team participant is issued two spectator tickets. These events are not otherwise open to the public. There are no student sections.   

Q: With students coming back to school after being quarantined, what struggles have you been seeing most in your students? How have you been providing mental health support to meet the needs of those students? Is it working?

A: We have not had students miss school due to quarantine yet, but in general we are concerned about the mental health needs of our students after being away from school for six months. Our schools are sending surveys to families at this time with the offer of services and support, mostly material items, in the hopes our families begin to self-report new needs. All staff are on alert to observe subtle behaviors in students that could signal the need for dialog.

In the first days of school there have not been widespread concerns or referrals for mental health services, but we anticipate a record number of counseling, nurse, and therapy referrals this year.

Q: How are the needs of students with special needs and considerations being addressed as you reopen school? How have you had to rethink service delivery for students (e.g. speech therapy with masks on, OT, PT and other one-to-one services)? Have there been challenges you didn’t anticipate?

A: One of the greatest fears of making changes to our school delivery model is the potential impact on students with special needs. Students with IEPs for special education services are also having a Distance Learning Plan (Form G) added to their IEP, to account for how that child’s services will be handled during a short or long-term closure.

Children with the most significant needs in grades 6 and above are participating in in-person learning for four days each week. Students with special needs whose families chose full-time virtual have the option for occupational therapy services and physical therapy services in person.

Some therapy services can be modified based on the needs of the child. We allow face shields in place of cloth masks for therapy when lip reading or otherwise watching the mouth is essential.

Our teachers and leaders who work directly with students with special needs and their families are working very hard to attend to each child’s IEP plans this year. Adapting all these Individualized Education Program plans has probably been one of the biggest challenges associated with changing the delivery model for all students.