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BPS board holds special meeting to discuss return to school plans
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BPS board holds special meeting to discuss return to school plans

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In a special board meeting in the Hevelone Center Tuesday evening, the Beatrice Board of Education heard a finalized plan for the district’s upcoming school year regarding COVID-19.

Beatrice Public Schools will start Wednesday, Aug. 12 for most grades, unless otherwise mandated by Gov. Pete Ricketts or state Board of Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt.

The district’s plan is a more detailed and amended version of the four-tiered approach Superintendent Jason Alexander and Assistant Superintendent Jackie Nielsen presented to parents in June.

Nielsen said classes will start in tier two of the plan, which anticipates a moderate risk of spreading COVID-19, and limits interactions in classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways and other areas, as well as randomly screens students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms. 

The district has purchased Personal Protective Equipment for staff and students. The plan states wearing masks will be enforced for all grades except preschool, though parents can complete an opt-out form if they choose to have their child not wear a mask. The opt-out form will not be honored if the district moves to tier three of the plan. Masks also may or may not be used during physical or outdoor activities.

Nielsen said if a COVID-19 case is found in a grade or classroom where a student is not wearing a mask, their information will be given to Public Health Solutions to help with contact tracing.

“Public Health Solutions has told us that when they are doing that contact tracing, if students are not wearing masks in that classroom they are going to be the ones that are probably directed to self-quarantine for 14 days,” Nielsen said. “That’s where we kind of have made the switch from strongly recommending to requiring, because we want our kids in school. We know that if you’re going to wear a mask, you’re probably going to be in school for the rest of the year.”

Nielsen noted that for students in the district who have partial hearing loss, clear masks, face shields and other PPE is being purchased to allow those students to read teachers’ lips.

Other changes to the district include that no visitors are allowed in district buildings except under extenuating circumstances, high-touch surfaces are to be cleaned every two hours, traffic in hallways will move in one direction when possible, and school buses will run at a 50% capacity.

Middle school and high school classes will also move to A/B block scheduling, meaning instead of having roughly eight classes a day for 45 minutes each, schedules will be roughly four classes each day for 90 minutes each.

Nielsen explained this would lessen the number of times students are in hallways as a larger group.

Under tier two, extracurricular activities like athletics plan to have an altered schedule in place to reduce travel and exposure, with schools providing live streaming options for viewers. Beatrice High School plans to have a fall musical, but with fewer audience members to allow social distancing. Show choir and band practices in smaller groups, and competitions set in locations where they can accommodate sanitary and safety spacing.

In tier three of the plan, schools will move to a hybrid schedule of in-person and remote learning, with students meeting in buildings either on Mondays and Thursdays, or Tuesdays and Fridays. Nielsen said students will be divided by their household's last name, and that Wednesdays will be an online learning day for everyone while the buildings are cleaned.

“We are having to re-norm everything we do,” Alexander said. “I think when students come back, there’ll be a time period of readjusting what it is that we do on a daily basis compared to what we’ve always known the school experience to be…I think it will also be a period for opportunity and growth that our students to adjust to. With cooperation and the help of everybody, it will be a good year.”

The board approved the plan in a 4-1 vote, with Erin Chadwick voting against it.

Alexander said he and Nielsen are open to answering questions and concerns via email at jalexander@bpsnebr.org and jnielsen@bpsnebr.org.

More information about the plan can be found at beatricepublicschools.org/, and a livestream of the meeting can be found on the district's Facebook page.

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