DMS takes precautions against the seen and unseen
In just a couple of weeks, buses will arrive and car lines will form to drop kids off as it will be time for back to school -- but not as usual.
Since the coronavirus interrupted the last semester of school just months ago, things have certainly changed, but one aspect that hasn’t changed is the priority of keeping students and staff safe.
“Last school year there was constant talk about safety measures with a single access point and now it has transitioned to safety protocols on something you can’t see ... a virus,” said Destin Middle School Principal Grant Meyer as he sat in his office Thursday morning. “It’s always something in education.”
Over the summer, Meyer said there has been many conversations at the state and local level on down to the principals and staff on how to handle this school year. They have sought guidance from the local health department as well as looked at guidelines put out by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics as to what they can do.
“So we’re looking at everything from the buses to students coming on campus, how classrooms would look, what we can do and can’t do ... it’s a lot,” Meyer said.
But he said the parents, for the most part, are ready for the kids to be back in the classroom.
“There are a few that are uncertain or still trying to make a decision at the moment,” he said, noting that about 30 students want to continue with online schooling.
At the beginning of summer Meyer said he had parents say, “oh no if we’re opening in the fall my son or daughter is coming back.”
With the students coming back, there will be certain safety precautions and protocols in place.
One of the recommendations is temperature screenings as the students arrive on campus, which could take up to 45 minutes.
Meyer said they will have a team staffed on the car-rider line as well as where the buses arrive.
“It’s time consuming and a lot of manpower, but if it’s going to keep the kids safe we’re going to have to do it. That’s the number one priority is keeping everyone safe, students and staff,” he said.
So how will the school week look?
Destin Middle School will be doing a block schedule. For example, students may go to first, third and fifth period classes on even days of the week and then second, fourth and sixth period classes on the odd days.
The classes would be longer, but less transition times throughout the school day, when the majority of the kids would gather up.
“Three classes per day, we feel like that’s a good thing to do for a semester and then see how things are going second semester,” Meyer said.
They are also looking at the cafeteria and how many can sit at a table. Meyer said they will be spreading students out and even utilizing some of the outside tables as well as putting tables on the stage area.
“We’re still working out the flow patterns of students and what the transitions would look like ... coming on campus and then dismissal,” he said. “Students gather up and wait for the bus, so where do we put them?
“The school and the school day is going to look different. But again it goes back to keeping everybody safe,” Meyer added. “And with everything spiking at the moment, it just makes decisions even harder. It’s unprecedented times.”
Will the students have to wear mask?
“As of today it is mandatory on the school bus, because you can’t social distance,” he said.
As for in the classroom or around on campus, Meyer said the school district is looking to get more information from experts before making a final decision.
However, he did say they are looking to purchase face shields for the teachers for when they have to work closely with the children.
Usually at the beginning of every school year, Destin Middle has what they call Readiness Day where parents and student can gather in the gym to meet teachers, sign up for various clubs and even buy T-shirts and shorts.
Meyer said after talking with his leadership team, having a Readiness Day is not feasible.
"Our community, when we host an event, they come. And there would be hundreds of students and parents there. So we’re going to do things differently at the beginning of school, maybe give out some information via video,“ he said.
Right now they are looking at doing orientation just for the incoming fifth graders and new students.
“(The fifth graders) are worried enough,” Meyer said. “We want them to get on campus and see where things are, but we’re going to have to do it in smaller groups.”
Right now orientation is set for Aug. 3, a week before school starts.
Destin Middle will have about 185 fifth graders.
"But we love our fifth graders,“ Meyer said. ”They are so excited and nervous. But we want them to feel good about coming on campus and meeting the teachers.“
As for athletic and extracurricular events, it’s a work in progress.
“As of today, the plan is to keep athletics but there’s been more discussions the last few days (with the FHSAA, district staff, athletic directors and principals),” Meyer said.
When it comes to football, the players are up close to one another. Some of the questions they are working through are what are the guidelines and protocols to keep them safe? If a student gets coronvirus, what does that look like for the team? Do they do contact tracing and keep kids home for a certain amount of time?
Also they are working through whether to allow fans in the stadium and if they do, how do they space them out?
“Nothing is set yet,” Meyer said. “Kids need to be part of sports and extra curricular activities, that’s part of school, and I’d hate for another nine weeks or another semester for kids not to have the opportunity to do the things they love.”
There has also been a lot of conversations about band and how to spread the students out in a limited band room and the playing of the instruments.
“Our band director has done a good job of putting things in place,” Meyer said.
However, he did say the “fight song may have to wait for the first home game.”
The summer has been anything but usual for staff.
“Summertime for principals and staff was always about looking at curriculum and this year it’s so much more,” Meyer said. “It’s been about looking at CDC guidelines, transportation and the health and well being of students ... that’s what we’re doing.”
But the majority of the staff are ready to get back at it.
“They didn’t feel as connected to the students when they did the online,” Meyer said.
The first day of school is Aug. 11.
In the meantime, Meyer is asking for parents and staff to be patient as they work through the many aspects of keeping everyone safe.
“Things will look different during the school year, but we’re still here to educate our students and give them the best education and keep them safe,” he said.
Visitors on campus will be limited.
“There’s going to be some things that are different but we’re just going to have to work through,” Meyer said. “But if it’s best for the students we’re going to have to do them.”