As school has begun, and students have begun to return to campus, there have been many questions about how the district and high school will handle “phasing-in.” NEISD has been working tirelessly to open our schools and make sure it is done as safely as possible.
“It’s easy to open schools,” district Superintendent Dr. Sean Maika said. “The challenge is to keep them open. The approach that we believe is best right now is to be strategic about returning students to school.”
There are many factors to consider when determining the best approach, such as building occupancy rules, community needs, and data from San Antonio MetroHealth.
“We keep a close eye on the metrics that MetroHealth issues daily and we also pay attention to what’s happening inside of NEISD,” Dr. Maika said. “We rely on information from both entities.”
NEISD has already moved through Phase 1, with five students per classroom online, and Phase 2, with up to ten students per classroom and rotating to electives, with the community as their first priority in these phases.
“In Phases 1 and 2 students remained in a single classroom with the same group of students,” Dr. Maika said. “We wanted to make sure that students and staff were able to become familiar with new safety protocols and administrators were able to tweak anything that needed to be improved before all students return.”
While most policies put into place are district-wide, some protocols are different on each NEISD campus.
“Some things must be done at the campus level due to different building layouts and logistics,” Dr. Maika said. “For instance, halls that are labeled as one-way, or the flow of traffic, where students eat lunch if it’s outside of the cafeteria. The wearing of masks, daily cleaning practices, and hand sanitizing stations are districtwide.”
At Churchill specifically, Principal Todd Bloomer is leading the charge in many plans to make sure that everyone stays safe.
“We have up/down stairs only, and we require all students and staff to wear masks,” Bloomer said. “We are utilizing the MPC in the Old Main as another cafeteria, and we have multiple handwashing stations in hallways.”
In the cafeterias, students will sit in a zig-zag pattern and must keep their masks on when not eating. Students are also instructed to “self-screen” in the mornings before school.
“Students should check their temperature before coming to school each day,” Bloomer said. “If they don’t feel well they should stay home and work asynchronously.”
While there are concerns about COVID-19 in the community, students and staff have worked to evolve to the change in conditions.
“We have extensive cleaning protocols in place and notifications in place to alert parents if their child’s class was moved or they were in direct contact with someone that has tested positive,” Bloomer said. “Look at athletics. Coaches are coaching in masks, and kids are wearing masks to practice. We are taking the safety of our community very seriously.”
Although joining an extracurricular is more difficult under these circumstances, Bloomer is hopeful that kids will try and participate.
“I hope that every kid joins a club or activity at WC,” Bloomer said. “That is the best way to interact, make friends, and enjoy the high school experience.”
If students don’t feel comfortable ever returning to school, they will not be forced to this year. However, this may change in the coming years.
“The virtual platform and schedule will continue for the 2020-2021 school year,” Bloomer said.
Our school nurse, Michelle Douthitt, has been extremely helpful with the health and wellness aspects of adjusting to this “new normal.”
“When it comes to a student or teacher’s healthcare needs, it’s important to know the
clinic staff will continue to meet those needs to the best of our abilities, just like every
year before,” Douthitt said.
Things in the clinic have changed a little bit due to new safety protocols and guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 symptomatic students.
“The clinic also looks a bit different such as stickers on the floor to ensure that 6ft safety
distancing is maintained, a person may be asked to wait outside the door before being allowed to enter, and students will not be allowed to “rest” in a room,” Douthitt said. “Either they go home or return to class after being assessed and we have contacted a parent or guardian.”
The clinic will still be open to students who need something, but minor things such as needing a Band-Aid will be left up to the teachers.
“We are trying to minimize the number of students coming to the clinic,” Douthitt said. “We really want to be able to use our time to take care of those kids who have medical emergencies, need their medication, have medical procedures, and most importantly those who are experiencing symptoms which could be COVID-19 related. The fewer unnecessary clinic visits the less chance students could be exposed to someone who may have the virus.”
If students do start experiencing some COVID symptoms, they should visit the clinic so the nurses can follow the new system and keep everyone safe.
“If a student is experiencing a symptom or symptoms, the student will be placed in a room away from others,” Douthitt said. “The nurse taking care of the student may be wearing more personal protective equipment in addition to the mask we are wearing all the time, such as a gown, gloves, and face shield. The student will remain in that same room until he/she is picked up by a parent. The parent will be given a letter that explains what is required for a student to be allowed to return to campus.”
There are many symptoms that can be contributed to COVID-19, and it is best to know all of them so you can keep an eye on yourself and your friends.
“The symptoms you should watch for are: cough, nausea or vomiting, congestion or runny nose, feeling feverish or temperature of 100 degrees or greater, sore throat, muscle or body aches, loss of taste or smell, chills, headache, diarrhea, fatigue, or shortness of breath or trouble breathing,” Douthitt said.
While Douthitt acknowledges that these are a lot of symptoms, she has great advice on when a good time to worry is.
“A key question is, does it feel new or unusual for you?” Douthitt said. “As a nurse, I will err on the side of caution.”
Douthitt also provided some tips for students to help them stay healthy during this time, whether attending school or staying at home.
“Social distancing of six feet, especially while eating,” Douthitt said. “Frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer when they can’t wash their hands, and not just wear a mask, but wearing it PROPERLY and using a clean mask every day.”
With flu season coming into the mix, Douthitt advises getting a flu shot no matter what, and also doing some other basic things to boost your immune system.
“Eat a healthy, balanced diet that has enough fruits and vegetables,” Douthitt said. “Get enough good, restorative sleep. The quality of your sleep is so important. Try to reduce your stress and develop good coping skills and relaxation techniques, and of course, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.”
If students don’t feel well at home, they are ALWAYS advised to be cautious, stay home, and call the clinic at 210-356-0003 to let them know what’s going on. Douthitt believes that despite the changes, we will all be able be successful this year #bettertogether.
“I like Mr. Bloomer’s #bettertogether hashtag because that’s how we will get through this school year,” Douthitt said. “We need to think of others as well as ourselves during this pandemic and the next several months ahead.”