Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020

Verona Area School District administrative building March 2020

The outside of the Verona Area School District administration building.

At the start of the 2019-20 school year, district staff at six of the 11 schools knew they were facing a behemoth task by the end of the school year – packing up their classrooms and moving to new buildings.

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting public health guidelines have required the district to rethink how that packing is done.

The district has implemented a check-in system for teachers to pack up their classrooms, as well as procedures that increase sanitation, district public information officer Kelly Kloepping told the Press.

“You forget how detailed you have to be to make sure that every touch point is sanitized,” she said. “We want staff to understand that their health is definitely our top priority – we have to ensure our health, and our students’ health.”

Six schools are moving this fall, all a result of the new high school being built on the City of Verona’s southwestern edge, with the two oldest – Sugar Creek Elementary and New Century School – closing permanently.

There are plenty of challenges that come with moving during a pandemic – avoiding contact with others and limiting the number of surfaces any one person might touch and making sure all staff that come in are healthy. Then there’s distributing students’ personal items to them that were left in classrooms prior to when districts were ordered to cease any in-person schooling by the county and state within a 48-hour period starting March 16. That left district staff and families without much, if any, time to plan to take belongings home.

The district’s COVID-19 steering committee has been working with its medical director, state and county public health officials and Dane County Emergency Management Services on what district staff can and can’t do, Kloepping said.

Sometimes, guidance changes by the hour and requires the district to change plans or abandon them altogether.

Staff whom the district deems healthy, based on a self-examination test and lack of fever, are allowed to pack up their classrooms at the different sites by signing up for four-hour shifts, held three times a day. During those shifts, staff enter and exit through specific doors, are given sanitized packaging materials and enter their rooms, which are opened prior to staff arrival to reduce the surfaces that get touched.

The committee also considered practical matters such as restroom usage, Kloepping said.

“We really wanted to control that there’s not people coming in and out all over – it’s a very controlled environment,” she said. “We really tried to be creative so that the teachers would have the least amount of touch points in the school.”

After they’re done packing up, staff “sign out” by putting a note on their door that says who was in there and the time they left. From that time, Kloepping explained, no one from the custodial staff or Coakley Brothers, the moving company the district hired, goes into that room for an additional 72 hours to reduce the chance that illnesses can be spread through surfaces.

Prior to COVID-19, staff were encouraged by the district to take home any personal items throughout the year to reduce the stress of packing toward the end of the year, Kloepping said.

Kloepping added the state’s “Safer at Home” order gave teachers the ability to pack up classrooms weeks earlier than originally planned. That’s resulted in allowing construction crews to start earlier on renovations, mainly in the K-Wing building, which will house NCS and Verona Area International School.

Previously, renovations were on a tight 14-week schedule to get all work done once the district received state approval to shift this school year’s start and end dates to accommodate the work.

“It’s kind of a domino effect that we were able to do some of this stuff now,” she said.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.