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(First of three parts)

The New Castle Area School District is preparing for students to return to the classrooms on Nov. 4.

Superintendent Debbie DeBlasio at a school board meeting Monday outlined the entire back-to-school process for the district's three schools to return to a hybrid form of learning for the second nine weeks — which entails part-time learning in school and part-time learning virtually or online.

There are different scenarios for the Harry W. Lockley Early Learning Center that houses children in kindergarten through grade 2, George Washington Intermediate School for grades 3 through 5, and the junior-senior high school for grades 6 through 12.

The process and all of the precautions are a result of a group effort from ongoing meetings of a district-wide pandemic task force. The group included teachers, administrators, principals and parents. The results include varied class schedules, sanitizing of buildings/classrooms, positioning hand sanitizers, requiring the use of face masks by students and staff and other personal protective measures throughout the day.

Parents who choose to keep their children at home with total virtual learning because of COVID-19 must notify the district by completing a survey or contacting the administration building, DeBlasio said.

To date, about 29 percent of its students have chosen not to physically return to school, but will continue learning through the district's online program, DeBlasio reported. But in light of Lawrence County's COVID-19 incidence increasing and numbers changing daily, that percentage could change before Nov. 4, she said.

Below are the procedures to be followed for children in kindergarten through grades 2, at Lockley Early Learning Center:

Kindergarten through second grade

Students will attend school under an abbreviated schedule, with Lockley students receiving face-to-face instruction by teachers in the mornings, and asynchronous learning from home in the afternoons. In order to maintain social distancing, the homeroom teachers will be changed for a small number of students.

The schedule is: 8:35 to 9:30 a.m., breakfast, social and emotional instruction and morning work; 9:30 a.m. to noon, classroom instruction; noon, student dismissal; 12:30 to 1 p.m., staff/teachers lunch; 1 to 2:45 p.m., virtual learning from home; 2:45 to 3:20 p.m., teacher preparation period; and 3:20 to 3:45, virtual (online) office hours, team meetings and one-on-one tutoring.

Students whose parents selected the virtual learning option will be assigned to a virtual on-staff teacher, following the same model and schedule as the first nine weeks. They may or may not be assigned the same teacher. The instruction online will coincide directly with the instruction taking place inside the classrooms of the Lockley school. Livestream lessons will be recorded and archived, and teachers will share them.

A sample schedule for virtual learning for kindergartners is: 8:35 to 9:30 a.m., breakfast/morning work; and 9:30 to 9:50 a.m., theme exploration; 9:50 to 10 a.m., rhyme time; 10 to 10:10 a.m., brain break; 10:10 to 10:40 a.m., Stepping Stones; 10:40 to 11 a.m., Write Away, 11 to 11:30 a.m., math; and 11:30 to 11:45 a.m., 15-minute math.

A sample virtual schedule for grades 1 and 2 is: 8:35 to 9:30 a.m., breakfast/morning work; 9:30 to 10:15 a.m., Success For All phonics and sight words; 10:15 to 11 a.m., math; 11 to 11:15 a.m., journals; and 11:15 to 11:45 a.m., handwriting and grammar.

Two teachers will be assigned as virtual teachers in each grade level and will tach all students in the virtual learning platform.

For those attending school, their arrival times will stagger for social distancing, using multiple school entrances. Staff will be positioned throughout the school to help students with social distancing as they go to their classrooms. Parents will not be allowed to enter the building.

Teachers will arrive at 8:15 a.m. and leave at 3:30 p.m.

Second graders walking will arrive at 8:30 a.m., and be dropped off at the second grade wing near room 165;  third-graders walking will arrive at 8:40 a.m. and be dropped off near the playground entrance.

Kindergarten walkers will arrive at 8:30 a.m. and students will be dropped off at the main entrance of the school or the entrance near the ramp, by room 111.

Upon arrival, students will go directly to their assigned classrooms. Departure times also will be staggered, using multiple entrances.

Kindergarten walkers will be dismissed at 11:45 a.m. and leave through the main doors. Second grade walkers will be dismissed at 11:45, leaving through Exit 8. First grade walkers will be dismissed at noon through the main doors. 

Buses will line up and wait until all second grade walkers are gone, then will line up as normal. Second grade bus students will use Exit 8. First grade bus students will exit the cafeteria and kindergartners will go to the bus also using the cafeteria.

OTHER PRECAUTIONS

Students will eat breakfast in their classrooms, delivered by the custodians before 8:30 a.m. 

All students will receive grab-and-go take-home lunches, available from stations throughout the school.

Lockers will be coded for students. Teachers will develop systems to code the lockers and assign students to six different groups with distancing of lockers.

Students will be required to wear masks but will be given "mask breaks" throughout the day when they can be removed for relief. Students will go to designated areas of their rooms, socially distanced, to remove the masks for a short period.

Tomorrow: A look at the back-to-the-classrooms plan for elementary students in grades 3 through 5 at George Washington Early Learning Center.

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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