SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Andrew Epperson chatted with Jody Wiggins, Siloam Springs School District’s superintendent, about classes resuming in about two weeks.
Q: What are your thoughts on the state’s reopening guidelines thus far?
A: I feel excited to get back to school, to be honest. It’s been pretty lonely around the district without students and without teachers. Our teachers are back on campus today and yesterday, and there’s an excitement amongst our teachers to be back, so I am looking forward to having students on campus. It’s been a challenge to try and get some things in place to try to ensure the safety of our staff and our students. I feel good about the plans that we have in place. We’ve had a lot of input on it. I know that they’re not perfect, and I know that it’s not going to prevent everything, but I think we’ve tried to put some things in place to mitigate the chances of spread in the district.
Q: What would constitute a significant outbreak at the Siloam Springs School District?
A: That’s a great question. We’ve been given very little guidance on what might constitute a significant outbreak and force us to make changes. I know that we will be reporting directly to the Dept. of Health and talking to them and receiving guidance from the Dept. of Health on anything that happens in our district, so our point of contact here in the district will be in constant communication with the Dept. of Health. When we have cases pop up, they will provide us guidance and help us determine what the proper steps are from that point.
Q: Has the state been in contact with you about how to determine levels of response?
A: No. I think those levels, that tiered response is a little bit hazy right now. The guidance we’ve been giving is that it’ll depend on individual circumstances or unique circumstances for whatever’s happening not only in our district but also in our community and county as far as community spread. I think, again, it’s going to go to individual circumstances surrounding your district, your community and your county and what the general population looks like as far as spread along with the district population.
Q: At what point would you consider just going to online only?
A: My understanding is that’s not my choice, that the decision would be made with the Dept. of Health. I think we would have to have a considerable outbreak among our staff and our students, or the other possibility is if we have a great number of our staff either quarantined or isolated or our students, then that puts us in a situation where it’s difficult to have school. Again, that would be a decision made in conjunction with the Dept. of Health.
Q: Are teachers required to clean their classrooms, and if someone gets sick, would teachers be held liable?
A: I don’t believe so. We have talked to our teachers about cleaning in between classes, and we are providing the cleaning supplies for them to do that. That’s going to be a challenge. They’ve got a lot of things going on during the day, and in between classes there’s a very short amount of time for them to close out one class and start the next, but they will also be wiping down desks during that time to help mitigate the chances of spread.
Q: Are classrooms set up to effectively socially distance?
A: Obviously, the class size numbers vary by grade and by subject at the upper levels, so we’re going to have a wide array of numbers of students in classes. We are limited to the spaces we have, so our classrooms—we are going to do our best to socially distance our students, and we are going to spread the desks out as far as we can within physical constraints of the classrooms that we have. The answer to the question is we will not be able to adequately socially distance in all of our classrooms. Therefore, we will enforce our face mask coverings policy and we will encourage them to stay as far apart as possible, and we will set those classrooms up where we can keep them as far away as possible.
Q: Could you go into a little more detail about the face mask policy?
A: Our school board passed a resolution requiring face coverings for all students and staff and visitors on our campuses. That will be for any event on our campuses at this point.
Q: In one Georgia school district, more than 250 staff members had to quarantine after being exposed to the virus. Are you prepared for major quarantines if you start to see a similar situation?
A: That’s an extreme case, and I think also that’s the largest school district in the state of Georgia, if I read that correctly. That’s a very large, large school district. I do anticipate the virus to spread at some point within our student population and our staff, and we will deal with that when it comes. You don’t know how to predict anything, so we’ll just have to deal with that with the Dept. of Health as it comes up.
Q: I’ve heard that school districts won’t check students’ temperatures or do any testing. Is that the same with Siloam Springs?
A: We are asking parents to do the screening of their children at home before they send them to school. We are doing self-screenings of our employees at the district. That will be the way we start the year. We looked into doing screenings of all of our students and trying to get thermometers or thermal imaging scanners to do that, and we’ve been told that up to—I don’t know the exact percentage, but up to a large percentage of student-aged kids are not symptomatic when they test positive, so I’m not sure that screening or taking temperatures is a tremendously-effective means of stopping the spread. We are going to focus on face coverings, socially distancing when we can, to the extent that we can and good hygiene: washing hands regularly and providing disinfectant wipes and sprays.
Q: Are teachers in the school district resigning or taking leaves of absence for their safety?
A: We have had a couple resignations I believe were due to the current situation with COVID. Other than that, honestly, as I’ve gone around the district the last couple days and seen our teachers, the majority of our teachers are excited to be back. We do have some with health concerns that, to be honest, are probably putting themselves at somewhat of a risky situation in coming back, but we’ve had a very limited number that’ve actually resigned because of it.
Q: I know that when teachers come back, they’ll spend a couple days on RISE training. Do you think that’s the best use of their time considering all that’s going on?
A: Well, we have a number of professional development days built into our calendars, and actually we moved some of those to the beginning of the year after the start date of school moved back, so we have filled those with a variety of professional development. Some of it focused on safety and security and stopping the spread of COVID in our schools, but a lot of it is still instructional. We’re still going to have school this year. Whether it’s on-site, remote or virtual, our job is to teach kids, so we are constantly trying to learn new things and better ways to do that. That training is essential for our teachers to be able to provide quality instruction to our kids, no matter the circumstances that are going on around them.
Q: At the beginning, you said you didn’t know an exact number for what’s considered a significant outbreak. Is that something that you and the district need to figure out, or is that something the state needs to say?
A: My understanding it it’s not my place to determine that number. That will be determined on individual or unique circumstances that we come across during the course of the year. That decision will be made with district personnel in conjunction with the Dept. of Health, and they will look at all factors from community spread to what’s going on in the community, the city and the county as well as the district.