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Preston talks about changes to schools in the fall

KINGWOOD — Schools will never go back to “normal,” Preston School Superintendent Steve Wotring said Monday, as he outlined what Preston schools could look like this fall.

We can’t wait any longer for the state to tell us how to have school in the fall, Wotring said. He and his staff, whom he praised, have devised a plan and are proceeding with it, unless they are told to stop.

The state has said there are no plans to close all state schools or even one county’s schools, Wotring said. And kids need to be back in the classroom.

Preston is planning for a five-day school week. All students will receive either a laptop or an iPad, through the 1 to 1 initiative funded in part by the school levy.

The new calendar approved by the board Monday calls for staff to spend Aug. 17-19 as training and teacher prep days. On Aug. 20, only 12th, eighth and fourth graders will go to receive their laptops and to learn how things will change.

On Aug. 21, only 11th, seventh and third graders will do the same. Tenth, sixth and second graders only will report. Ninth, fifth and first graders will go in Aug. 25. On Aug. 26 all students will report.

“The key to this is to try to do it as safely as possible for all of our kids and all of our staff,” Wotring said. “So there’s still much work to be done.”

Among the changes:

The schedule at Preston High School (PHS) will change. Students will arrive 7:30 a.m.-7:50 a.m. and go straight to their classrooms. Lunch will be 11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m., with some students eating in classrooms because only 50% of the cafeteria can be used at one time.

PHS will have four-period days of 65 minutes each, with a 1:30 p.m. dismissal time. Teachers’ lunch periods will be 1:30-2 p.m. at PHS, followed by their one-hour duty free planning period.

Students will not be required to wear masks, but masks will be recommended in public areas for older students. The plan is to buy plastic face shields for teachers to wear.

“I think it’s important that kids be able to see their teachers without this,” Wotring said, gesturing at his mask. It’s also difficult for anyone to wear a mask all day.

All snow days will become remote learning days. COVID-19 or not, snow days likely never will be approved again by the state, Wotring said, because it has been shown that virtual learning is an option.

Because the Buckwheat Festival was cancelled, the board added Sept. 24 and 25 back into the schedule. “We need to get as many instructional days as we can in before winter hits,” Wotring said.

If parents do not want their children to return to school, they can leave the system and home school or participate in an all-virtual program that the county will offer.

The calendar includes nine remote learning days. Students will work remotely from home. Teachers will spend part of these days with instruction and part in professional development.

Visitors to school will be very limited. The state has cancelled academic fairs, such as the social studies fair, and all field trips and assemblies.

Families or people who get on together at the same bus stop will be seated together on the bus.

Protocols are being developed on screening students. Parents are a big part of this.

“All of this could change on a dime,” Wotring said.

More information on the proposal will be in future news stories.