First unified school district reopens

Jermaine Johnson II

Rocky Hill Elementary and Lincoln Elementary School in Exeter reopened their campuses at limited capacity to grades K-5

EXETER – For the first time in nearly eight months, students have finally returned to classrooms in Exeter. On Thursday Nov. 5, Rocky Hill Elementary and Lincoln Elementary School reopened their campuses at limited capacity to grades K-5.

Exeter Unified School District (EUSD) submitted their waiver to the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency on Oct. 12 and was the first unified school district in Tulare County to welcome students back on campus. Between the two schools, about 65% of students decided to return to campus with 35% of students opting to continue distance learning.

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Ms. Howard, along with other teachers, spent the first two days of school going over the proper routines and protocols with their students.Photo by Jermaine Johnson II

Students are allowed to be on campus for three hours so they are separated into two groups. The first group is there from 7:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m and the second group from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The school buses are available for students who wish to use it. Only 16 kids are allowed on the bus to maintain social distancing. If students from the same household are utilizing the transportation services then they are allowed to sit together which would then allow for more than 16 kids on the bus. There are proper protocols in place as far as loading and unloading the bus to minimize contact. After each group leaves, the bus is sanitized and a disinfectant fogger is used.

Before the school doors open, parents line up outside with their students while staying six feet apart from other families. A staff member will come around to sanitize hands then the student will enter school and get their temperature taken. They then proceed straight to their classrooms and are not allowed to congregate in large groups at any point of the day. At this point of the reopening process, students are not allowed to eat on campus so the school sends them home with a meal. Each grade is assigned a specific gate during dismissal to mitigate congregation.

The first two days of school were dedicated to routine and protocol. Students were educated on what it means to stay in their bubble, how to maintain social distancing and how to properly wash their hands. Teachers are not allowed to touch student materials so a lot of work is still being submitted using google classroom. They also made kits with their student’s names on materials such as pens and pencils to prevent students from sharing supplies. Water fountains around the schools have been shut off so students have been supplied with reusable water bottles. The only thing students can bring to and from school everyday are their water bottles and Chromebooks. Bookbags are left outside of the classroom before entering.

After each group leaves, high touch surfaces are wiped down and disinfectant foggers are used in each classroom.

There are about 15-16 teachers still running the distance learning classes for those students. The material is relatively the same as in-person learning but it is being taught in a different format. At Lincoln Elementary School, five students decided to drop distance learning and returned to in-person classes.

There are many protocols in place if a student exhibits symptoms of COVID-19. The district nurse/COVID-19 coordinator Caitlin Thompson will assist students and staff with accessing the most appropriate testing sites throughout Tulare County. If they test positive then the school will do contact tracing. Their family would be required to self-quarantine and if the student made it to class then that entire group would be required to quarantine as well.

The hope for EUSD is for all students to eventually return to campus, but that will be dependent on Tulare County’s status on the COVID-19 monitoring list. For now, they will be reevaluating the existing reopening plan that was established in July, so they can be prepared if the county were to switch from the purple to the red tier.

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