RAPID CITY, S.D. — Onboard teachers at Rapid City Area Schools are now in their classrooms, preparing for the new school year starting in just three weeks.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, 150 custodial crew members have been preparing, since the beginning of the pandemic, for the start of a year unlike any others. Regardless of how school begins, Buildings and Grounds Manager Kit Cline says they are ready.
“It really is about doing what we’ve always done with a little more focus and a little more persistence,” says Cline.
Cline says it’s all about extra focus on high traffic areas, such as lunchrooms and hallways. Even custodial staff have their own three-level plan, enacted based on the spread of the virus in the school district and community. Facilities will also be updated with new ventilation filters tailored towards catching COVID-19 virus particles.
“COVID by nature tends to attach itself to larger particles, so going to the filter we are going to do a better job of filtering the larger particles, in turn, filtering the COVID particles,” Cline says.
Cline says lunch hours have been extended so that fewer students are in the lunchroom at one time, but it can be a double-edged sword. Janitorial staff will have to clean in between each lunch group, meaning a lot more time spent on sanitation.
Water fountains in schools will be shut down. Instead, water bottle fill-up stations will be available. Tablets and laptops should help decrease the need for lockers. Students will have access to most of their reading and classroom materials at their desks and on their devices. Bathroom traffic will also have to be limited to two or three people at a time.
But in many of the classrooms, averaging 20 to 26 kids, social-distancing may be almost impossible without reducing class sizes and creating additional class times.
Michelle Opbroek is a new Eighth Grade Science teacher. She has 22 years of experience as an educator but nothing prepared her for this year.
“I’m really excited to go back to school and getting back together with students again,” Opbroek said. “That is always at the core of our hearts as teachers is that one-on-one contact. But [teachers] are a little anxious because it is so chaotic. There’s a plan in place but we know it could change, it could flex at any given moment.”
The Together Again – Back to School plan was approved by the RCAS Board of Education on August 10. The plan is flexible, and Superintendent Dr. Lori Simon is able to make changes to the plan depending on virus spread and direction from the South Dakota Department of Health and local healthcare networks.
Cline says patience and respect for other people will be essential heading back into any one of the school’s three phases.
“It’s really about doing the right thing, respecting each other and if you’re sick, stay home. When you’re at work, social distance to the maximum extent feasible and when you’re not able to social distance, wear a mask,” says Cline.