Four-day week the plan for Plains schools

by Chuck Bandel
| July 30, 2020 5:51 PM

Getting students back in the classroom this Fall amid the Covid-19 outbreak has proven to be a massive task.

But the Plains School Board and Superintendent Thom Chisholm, with the backing of the teacher’s union, have given the goahead to a plan that will do just that with a four days per week schedule beginning Aug. 24.

There are still situations and challenges that could arise as Covid levels fluctuate, but for now, classes will be open Monday through Thursday.

The plan, according to Chisholm gives the students and teachers educational consistency.

“We are doing the best we can,” Chisholm told Board members and a gathering of approximately 25 teachers and parents during an outdoors meeting last week. The meeting was held on a parking lot outside the main campus building to accommodate a larger-than-expected group of parents and teachers. Social distancing concerns were also a factor.

Despite a few brief paper-scattering wind gusts and loud horn blasts from passing trains, the meeting proceeded as planned.

“We wanted to do an even number of days so there would never be three day weeks, the idea being to present equal learning time opportunities for students and teachers.”

The four-day week plan keeps equality in educational hours, whereas having half the students go three days a week while the other half attended two days a week would present problems with class-time consistency.

The move forward comes amid recently tightened virus-centered regulations put forth by Governor Steve Bullock and the Center for Disease Control’s recommended guidelines.

In unanimously approving the plan, which is in affect for the entire coming school year, school administrators say they also have contingency plans should the Covid situation worsen or improve.

“The Administration feels adopting the plan for one year will give us flexibility going forward,” Chisholm said. “We like to think we will be able to operate as close to normal as is possible.”

The plan was quickly endorsed by the teacher’s union shortly after adjournment of the Board meeting. A similar endorsement is expected by the union covering the non-teaching positions such as maintenance and food service. Those workers will be available for work five days a week.

As part of the plan, Chisholm said, the hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., instead of the shorter total hours used last year. Adding 40 minutes a day will help the school stay within state requirement for number of educational hours each year.

“There have been many obstacles to overcome,” Chisholm said. “Changing the number of days and hours creates challenges in budgeting, transportation, accommodating working parents and even ordering supplies”.

But Chisholm and the Board remained optimistic the challenges will be overcome.

“One of the things that makes me feel good this will work is the kind of community we have here in Plains,” he said. “This is a place where people come together and work together in times like this and I feel this will be the case with this situation. This is a great place to live.”

Board members also discussed other options in case the already fluid Covid situation gets worse.

Among those are back-up plans for two-day class weeks with half the school coming two days and the other half two other days. A worse case scenario, they agreed would be an outbreak that creates a situation where a shutdown would be necessary.

Local physician’s assistant Nick Lawyer, who was one of only a few attendees who wore a mask during the session, said it may be better to break up the four days in two, two-days a week classroom times.

“Having two days (Monday and Tuesday) in class, then Wednesday off before doing two more days would give the students and staff a one-day break from four straight days of potential exposure to the virus,” Lawyer advocated.

In the end, the Board adopted the four straight days approach. The plan includes aggressive, increased cleaning and use of personal protective equipment like masks and social distance as needed. Increased school nurse hours is also a possibility.

“This may be the most complex logistical problem I’ve ever had to work with,” Chisholm said. “But I think we can handle it. Public education is the backbone of democracy.

“We have always been able to figure things out and work through them and I think we will always be able to.”


Plains School Board members listen to a presentation at last week’s meeting held outside due to social distancing concerns. (Chuck Bandel/Valley Press)