Safety key in return to classes

Spring-Ford instituted several changes in an attempt to maintain students’ safety amidst COVID-19 pandemic.


Staff photo

Seniors Jess Wosak (left) and Elizabeth Power speak prior to class Jan. 5. Spring-Ford students are currently attending in-person classes under the hybrid learning model, with measures such as mask wearing and social distancing utilized to promote safety.

Ally McVey, Staff Writer

It was Thursday, March 12, 2020, when in-person learning ceased last spring. As students frantically processed news that the school would be closed for a minimum of two weeks, questions were raised:

“Will I still have sports?”

“When will we be coming back?”

“What about my SATs?”

As had been the common theme in the year 2020, these questions were only met with more questions. What became unpleasantly certain, however, was that students would be absent from in-person classes for a significant period of time.

Nearly eight months later, students returned to high school classrooms Nov. 16 under a hybrid format, featuring a Blue Group and a Gold Group that attend classes in-person on different days.

Under the plan, Blue Group students learn in the building on Mondays and Thursdays while the Gold Group attends classes through Zoom or pre-recorded videos. The groups then switch roles on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays remain an asynchronous day on Canvas for all students, and some students pursued the option of continuing with the completely virtual learning model used by all students during the first marking period.

The hybrid learning model proved to be a successful start to in-person instruction. Spring-Ford High School Principal Dr. Robert Colyer commended students and staff for their vigilant efforts during the first week back.

From my perspective, the return of students in a hybrid model went well,” Colyer said. “We were pleased with the compliance with students wearing their masks and maintaining distance where and when they can throughout the building.  The hybrid model allows for greater spacing between students as the student population within the building is minimized, which, along with wearing masks, will be two of the more significant precautions we can implement.  Additionally, the self-monitoring by staff and students will play an important role to ensure that people are staying home if (they are) not feeling well and experiencing symptoms.”

Several provisions regarding masks, social distancing, and sanitation are among the important measures school officials will take to keep students safe. 

Precautions in these areas were first implemented when Spring-Ford sports and other extracurricular activities resumed this past summer; in many ways, this provided the district with an opportunity to see how its safety measures would perform on a smaller scale, prior to the return of mass numbers of students to school buildings. The results of this trial were encouraging as no Spring-Ford sport or activity was prevented from finishing its season due to complications with COVID-19.

This positive outcome can be attributed to the safety measures put in place by the district, and by the diligent actions of extracurricular participants and instructors. At Spring-Ford fall sporting events, an onlooker would notice that each and every athlete, as well as each coach and spectator, was wearing a mask, save for the period in which athletes were actually competing. Additionally, spectators were socially distanced, as well as players not actively competing on the field; temperature checks, also, were a new addition to each Spring-Ford team’s warm-up.

These measures have allowed Spring-Ford sports and extracurriculars to proceed, and the avoidance of a coronavirus outbreak within participants provided hope to students, teachers, and administrators, as the daunting task of reopening schools loomed.

While Spring-Ford did witness success resuming its extra-curricular activities, it is important to note that these activities were conducted largely outdoors, and with very small numbers of people compared to the amount that begin to repopulate Spring-Ford school buildings. 

Thus, the Spring-Ford administration set forth a series of guidelines in their reopening plan, intending to protect students and staff members. The most visible change when students initially returned Nov. 16 was in the form of masks. 

Face coverings have proven to dramatically reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which mainly travels through airborne droplets. As a result, Spring-Ford students must wear masks upon entering the school building, as per the district’s mask-wearing guidelines. 

Students will be compelled to wear a mask during the majority of the school day, including during classes and in the hallways. Safety guidelines set forth by Spring-Ford state that masks are not required during lunch, and there is an opportunity during the day for “mask breaks.” According to the district reopening plan, “to the extent feasible, mask breaks will be provided when students can maintain a minimum of 6-feet social distancing.”   

“Personally, wearing a mask does not bother me,” said Spring-Ford student Juliana Frascone, who has been attending classes under the hybrid model since the reopening. “For the safety of everyone, it is a priority that we wear our masks when possible and correctly.”

The next major pillar of the district’s safety measures deals with sanitation of surfaces in school. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed just how many surfaces are touched by mass amounts of students over the course of a day: keyboards, water fountains, desks, textbooks, and lunch tables make up just a fraction of the list. This makes sanitation a steep challenge. 

Spring-Ford’s safety guidelines provide for the cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces once a day, five days a week; the same goes for classrooms, locker rooms, and bathrooms. This intense sanitation protocol highlights the importance of Spring-Ford custodians, whose work is now more instrumental than ever before to students’ educational experience. 

We are fortunate to have a great custodial crew here at the high school who always keep our building exceptionally clean and the additional attention given to frequent cleaning of high touch areas within the building will be important for the health and safety of our staff and students,” said Colyer. “Thank you to Mr. (Kennith) Hettrick, head custodian and Mr. (Robert) Hunter, director of planning, operations and facilities.”

Additionally, hand sanitizing stations will be present in every classroom, and sanitizing wipes will be supplied as well. These materials have become hot commodities during the pandemic, and their presence in schools will most likely play a role in mitigating the spread of the virus amongst students and teachers. 

Another major aspect of the reopening safety plan is the screening for symptoms prior to attending school. The return-to-school guidelines state that each student planning to attend school must review a checklist of symptoms before departing for school. For example, if a student has a fever of greater than 100.4, difficulty breathing, cough, or loss of taste or smell, the student should stay home, isolate from other people, and contact his or her healthcare provider.

It is clear that the Spring-Ford School Board and administration have gone to great lengths to incorporate students into school buildings using  the hybrid learning model. Their efforts, however, only prove effective given the cooperation of the student body. 

It is imperative that, if in-person classes are to resume for an extended period of time, Spring-Ford students comply with the district’s guidelines, for their own safety, the safety of their peers, and the safety of the Spring-Ford School District as a whole.