Class in the time of Corona: Blackwell Schools seek to return in August

by Charles Gerian

The Blackwell Board of Education voted Monday night to send students back to school for the 2020-2021 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The board decided to continue with on-site, person-to-person learning with various guidelines in place for social distancing and sanitation. 

“As for right now, we're going back to school,” District Superintendent Shawn Haskins said. “This will change if [the State Board of Education] says something or if Superintendent [of Public Instruction Joy] Hofmeister decides something.”

In late June, Haskins conducted a “return to learning” community meeting. He asked for input from community leaders, educators, parents, and students regarding how to proceed with the school year during the pandemic. 

At the meeting — and in a news release issued via e-mail and Facebook following the meeting — Blackwell parents were encouraged to e-mail their students’ respective school principals at the elementary, middle, and high schools. Those principals would then report to Haskins. 

Blackwell Elementary School has 21 students set for online learning, with 14 “maybe” students. Blackwell Middle School had 17 students opt-in for online learning, with 10 “maybe” students. Blackwell High School had nine opt-in for online learning with only three “maybe” students. 

Haskins explained what he had previously gone over during the June community meeting: that Blackwell Public Schools would have a contingency plan in case the school had to shut down again, forcing students and faculty to stay home. 

Currently, Haskins is working with Jamie Burtner on a plan for “blended” learning, which combines online and in-person learning. Haskins noted that everyone who got a paycheck from Blackwell Public Schools would be carrying “extra weight” this year, but added that he and the other administrators were going to do everything in their power not to overwhelm teachers, faculty, and staff. 

“Right now, our biggest concern is internet,” he said. “We would need about 150-200 hot spots, which would cost us about $10 per student per month.”

Using funds from grants provided from the State of Oklahoma, Haskins said Blackwell Public Schools would look into buying thermometers to read temperatures of students and faculty entering schools.

“We would be reading temperatures about once per day, in the morning,” he said. “If, later on, a child looks sick or is unwell, we would read that individual again. We simply don't have time to do multiple temperature checks throughout the day.”

Haskins and board members also agreed that masks would be “OK to wear” but were not mandatory.

The board then voted to accept the resignations of BHS English teacher Lauren Fleck, BES Pre-K paraprofessional Brittany Jones, and BMS science teacher Cameron Kirk. The board hired Tara Greer to teach BHS English, Keith Fletcher to teach BMS science, Randy Bishop for BMS social studies, Mysti Reeder for BES 4-K, and David Melnick as a BHS custodian. 

Also approved was a contract with Seacoast Roofing and Construction, LLC for a roofing project at the district’s central office.