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Schools balance safety in the bitter cold with COVID safety

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MT. HOREB (WKOW) -- Frigid weather can be tough for young students waiting for school buses early in the morning, but some pandemic protocols may make the bus ride colder, as well.

When kids K-5 return to class Monday in Mt. Horeb, those who are taking the bus will do so with the windows down.

"This is a protocol that we put into practice," said superintendent Dr. Steve Salerno.

He says they've been cracking the windows open on buses as part of their COVID protocol, since it's a space where kids have to be close together. Salerno says the idea came from guidance from both the CDC and local health officials.

The pandemic doesn't stop when the weather gets cold, so he says the windows will still have to go down.

"Certainly, we'll have the heaters going on the bus, and not every window is down to the fullest extent," he said.

Salerno wrote a Facebook post Friday explaining the protocol, and also explaining how the district decides when to cancel in-person class outright due to the weather.

"We want people to make informed decisions for their little ones," he said.

Cracking the windows does improve airflow, but it also makes the bus quite a bit colder -- an example of COVID protocols butting heads with this frigid winter weather.

Another example -- recess.

"Our kids also need some time where they're just taking a break from masks," Salerno said.

That has been during recess, but it's hard to keep kids outside for long in this bitter cold.

Inside the building, they have new technology to keep the air flowing. It cycles in outside air more often, but it has a few drawbacks.

"We have notified families that they should have their kids dress in layers, because when you do introduce that much fresh air of course, it does get a little chillier inside," Salerno said.

Salerno says he talks frequently with both public health officials and other superintendents about ways to stay safe from both COVID and the cold -- meeting several times a week over Zoom.

In the meetings, they brainstorm ideas for creative solutions -- such as when a quick pivot to virtual is necessary due to the weather.

"Staff members who live out in the country on a day like today might not necessarily have good internet," Salerno said. "So as much as I can cue our teachers that (a switch to virtual) might be a possibility, they can record their lesson at school and upload it."

For months, school districts have been trying to stay one step ahead of the coronavirus. Now, they've got to work to stay one step ahead of the cold, as well.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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