Schools get creative with social distancing measures


Seymour-Redding Elementary School Principal Steve Bush is just as ready for school to begin Aug. 10 as the nearly 700 students expected to fill his building.

He and the other principals and administrators of Seymour Community School Corp. have spent the summer coming up with ways to keep students and staff healthy and safe during the current COVID-19 pandemic environment.

Students and staff will notice several changes to their classrooms, the hallways and other areas of the schools designed to promote social distancing, handwashing, sanitation and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment, all in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

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“As the elementary principals planned for our reentry, we came across a few roadblocks and barriers,” Bush said.

One major problem was classroom desks and seating. Many teachers have switched from traditional, individual student desks to tables that seat four to six kids.

Those tables are large and take up a lot of space in the classrooms but are valuable to the learning experience when used in the proper way.

“As we were preparing to socially distance our kids with those big, heavy expensive tables, we had to get creative in how we will divide our kids to keep that social distance,” Bush said.

The team of principals explored some different options and landed on the idea of using polycarbonate barriers or dividers to essentially create student quadrants for seating, maintaining space between the students but still allowing them to be seated at tables in a safe manner.

The corporation already has invested in plastic sneeze guards for school offices and cafeterias.

Dividers will be anchored to the tables so they cannot be moved or knocked down by young students, Bush said. They also will be sanitized frequently.

The corporation has been working with local companies to get quotes on producing such barriers, but each school building has its own unique needs.

“In my building, we have 62 tables that we needed to get adjusted for students to sit at,” Bush said.

At Emerson Elementary School, dividers are needed in the cafeteria because it’s not able to accommodate students appropriately with social distancing requirements due to its small size.

“We want to make sure we are bringing kids back safely to the best of our abilities,” Bush said.

All of the new safety protocols and measures are an added expense to the school district, but SCSC will use federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

That money is available for school corporations to respond to, recover from and continue student and staff supports through 2022.

At last week’s school board meeting, trustees accepted CARES Act funding in the amount of $529,088.85. Of that amount, $31,877.82 has to be made available to non-public schools within the Seymour district.

CARES Act funding can be used to pay school employees for additional hours to address health and safety measures, cleaning, additional bus routes, counseling, cleaning supplies, PPE, the purchase of more Chromebooks and internet hotspots and any costs related to building modifications for COVID-19 safety.

“We will be using this funding to help alleviate the costs associated with COVID-19 and the additional measures we need to take,” said Diane Altemeyer, director of state and federal programs.

Since the funding is good for two years, Altemeyer said there is no push to spend the money quickly, and the district wants to see where its needs really lie.

“We’ll be taking stock of the things we need and plan to spend that money wisely as our costs are incurred due to COVID,” she said.

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