School reopening: ‘So far, so good’

With Chromebooks on backorder, students must make do with older devices

The Cordova School Board resumed in-person meetings Wednesday, Sept. 9. Superintendent Alex Russin and board members Tammy Altermott and Peter Hoepfner participated by video chat. (Sept. 9, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The return of students to their classrooms has proceeded smoothly so far, officials said at a Wednesday, Sept. 9 meeting of the Cordova School Board. The meeting was the board’s first conducted face-to-face since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Superintendent Alex Russin and board members Tammy Altermott and Peter Hoepfner participated by video chat.

Despite minor confusion over points of procedure affected by the pandemic, such as where students should be dropped off at school, the first few days of class were remarkably successful, said Stephanie Milner, the recently hired principal of Mt. Eccles Elementary School.

A suite of precautions have been implemented to minimize the odds of Cordova’s school buildings becoming a hub for the novel coronavirus. Air filters have been upgraded, drinking-fountain spouts have been deactivated and hand sanitizer stations have been placed in all classrooms. Students have been glad to comply with the new rules in place at Cordova Jr./Sr. High School, Principal Kate Williams said.

“So far, so good,” Williams said. “There’s been no pushback, which was unexpected. The students were very eager to please, and a little hesitant about what to do and where to go… I think they were a little scared to move throughout the building. So, we were there, shepherding the seventh graders to their new classrooms, showing them the way to go and reassuring them.”

Students’ uncertainty during the first day of in-person classes seemed to have dissipated somewhat by the second day, Williams said.

An order for Chromebooks placed by the school district will not be fulfilled until at least the end of September. As school resumes with an increased emphasis on remote learning, there has been a nationwide run on Chromebooks, inexpensive laptops that use an operating system designed by Google.

“That’s made our start of the year pretty difficult,” said Jason Fastenau, technology director for the school district. “I’m putting a lot of computers out that I was really hoping to retire. On the other hand, I’m very grateful that we have the computers to put out, which puts us in a much better position than a lot of districts have found themselves.”

Foggers are being used to efficiently disinfect classrooms, while electrostatic backpack sprayers are used for “wraparound” sanitization of objects like door handles, stair railings and playground equipment. With a pair of foggers, all of the classrooms at Mt. Eccles Elementary School or at Cordova Jr./Sr. High School can be disinfected in about 20 minutes, said Josh Pearson, maintenance director for the district.

“I’m deeply grateful and appreciative for how everyone’s worked to bring our students back into the buildings and to get reconnected with their teachers and with their friends and with their learning,” Board President Barb Jewell said. “I can’t think of how it could have been done better.”

Thanks to a renewed waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the school district has been able to resume distributing lunches to all children age 18 and under, including those not enrolled as students. The waiver will extend until Dec. 31, assuming funds allow, said Sandie Ponte, food service manager for the district.