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Rolling back to class

Marshall Public Schools outlines plan to gradually bring students back

Photo by Deb Gau More tables are being brought into fifth and sixth grade classrooms as Marshall Middle School prepares for students to return to in-person learning full time. However, social distancing and COVID-19 safety precautions like masks and clear plastic table dividers are still being used to keep kids safe, Principal Mary Kay Thomas said.

MARSHALL — Marshall Public Schools are working back toward having all their students in the classroom, and not just elementary school students, administrators said this week.

The plan is to bring back middle and high schoolers a couple of grades at a time — and if everything goes well, all MPS students could be in class in person by March 1, said Superintendent Jeremy Williams.

“I’m excited to share that we have a plan for returning everyone to full face-to-face (learning),” Williams said in an update to the Marshall School Board. “Maybe not as quick as we’d like to do it, but we have some guidelines from the state we’re following with that.”

In an update to the Marshall School Board, Williams said the district will be implementing a “rolling start” to bring all middle and high school students back to in-person learning. Students in grades 5 and 6 at Marshall Middle School, and grades 9 and 10 at Marshall High School will all return to in-person learning on Feb. 16. Then, students in grades 7 and 8, and 11 and 12, will return on March 1.

Williams said families in the district were notified of the plan on Sunday.

“Learn-at-home still remains an option, so families can choose that,” he said.

“I think there’s going to be a sense of normal, and people are going to feel comfortable being back in school,” Williams said. But while it’s going to be exciting to have students back, Williams and principals at MMS and MHS said it’s going to remain important to follow COVID-19 safety measures. They said staff will continue to encourage behaviors like wearing face coverings and social distancing.

“We don’t want our kids to think that, because everyone is back, this is over,” MHS Principal Brian Jones said Tuesday.

While the state has eased up on its social distancing requirements, it doesn’t mean face masks are going away. MMS and MHS don’t have enough room to have a full six feet of space between students in the classroom.

“That’s why we still need masks,” Williams said.

MMS Principal Mary Kay Thomas said middle school educators have also had to explain to students that they will still need to use masks and practice good habits like washing hands.

“We have to be more careful, not less, because we want to stay here,” Thomas said of students coming back to the classroom.

Jones and Thomas said additional desks and tables are being placed in classrooms in preparation for students’ return. Desks and tables are being spaced out as much as possible. At the middle school, classrooms are also using clear plastic dividers on tabletops between students. Thomas said the MMS cafeteria is big enough to space students out during lunch period, but finding enough lunch space is going to be a challenge at the high school. Jones said he is looking for additional space at the high school — possibly the lobby of the performing arts center — where lunch tables can be set up.

There will also be heightened cleaning and sanitizing of classrooms and high-touch areas, as there has been throughout the school year, Jones and Thomas said.

While both teachers and students are excited to come back to the classroom full-time, Thomas said there’s some nervousness too. “I think it’s a healthy nervous,” she said, because teachers and staff don’t want to let their guard down about COVID safety.

Both Thomas and Jones said it will be a positive thing for students to have in-person learning again.

“It will be nice to get all of our kids back,” Jones said. “I believe they need it.”

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