Students in the Powell school district are out of class all week for a previously scheduled spring break, but it will be at least a couple more weeks before they return to school.
On Monday, Park County School District No. 1 canceled school and all school related activities until April 3.
“Though we do not know exactly how, and to what extent the COVID-19 virus will affect our community, one thing is certain, we have to do everything in our power to help minimize and slow the spread of this virus,” wrote Superintendent Jay Curtis in a Monday afternoon message to families and staff.
Curtis announced the decision after meeting with public health officials Monday, and said experts all agree “that very aggressive action is needed at this time to curb the spread and ‘flatten the curve’ of infections.”
“As per my discussion with public health officials, there should be NO gatherings of students of any kind,” Curtis wrote. “Students should go home, stay home, and should not congregate.”
The Powell district plans to launch a digital/hybrid learning plan to ensure that students continue their education beginning Thursday, March 26.
“During these uncertain times, our commitment to the education of our students will not change,” Curtis said.
The district is also making plans to serve special populations, “which will be case by case specific.”
“... We are also making plans to continue our breakfast and lunch program for our students that need it, and will be communicating with families within the next few days regarding how the distribution will occur,” Curtis wrote. “We will get through this, and be stronger on the other side.”
Curtis thanked families and staff in the district for their patience and support “during this unprecedented time.”
Other local organizations serving children, including the Youth Clubs of Park County and Children’s Resource Center, have also announced closures.
On Sunday afternoon, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow recommended that all Wyoming schools remain closed through at least April 3 — a period of three weeks — in an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. President Donald Trump made a similar recommendation on Monday, advising that children be schooled at home.
Schools in Cody had been set to open on Monday under a number of restrictions, but in-line with the new advice from the state, Cody school leaders also decided to close through April 3.
“While we do not have any confirmed cases at this time, we are taking preventative measures to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus,” Interim Superintendent Peg Monteith said Sunday. The district is evaluating the possibility of remote and online learning, she said.
The recommendations from Gordon and Balow follow Wyoming’s first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sheridan County and another in the Lander area.
In recommending school closures on Sunday, Balow said that, “Evidence of community spread in Fremont County, two confirmed cases in Sheridan County, and pending tests from across the state have led us to this.”
“Wyoming has over 90,000 square miles where schooling is an essential function in each community — the decision is difficult,” she added.
The two state officials said that they “will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments throughout this three-week period, with the goal of getting students back to classrooms as soon as safely possible.”
The governor and superintendent also urged district leaders to “ensure the continuity of learning and essential services.”
“In the midst of this pandemic, communities need the latitude, empowerment, and support to make difficult decisions that affect education, economy, and essential functions,” Gordon said. “While we safeguard the health of every person we must also do our best to continue our daily work for the economic security of our state and nation.”
Before Sunday’s recommendations from the state leaders, the Powell school district had already canceled nearly all after-school activities, field trips and other travel in an effort to combat the new coronavirus.
Additionally, following spring break, the district was set to implement a screening process for all school visitors — and asking staff and students who’d traveled overseas or to identified emergency areas to remain at home in “self-quarantine” for 14 days.
“We understand that not all members in our community may see this as a need, but we feel that these restrictions are essential for us to help slow the spread even when there are no confirmed cases in our area,” Curtis said in a Friday message. “Individuals are highly contagious LONG before they show signs or symptoms, and large gatherings are specifically dangerous for HIGH community transmission!”
While COVID-19 produces generally mild symptoms in most people who are infected, it can, in a small fraction of cases, be deadly; the elderly and people with chronic diseases are particularly vulnerable. “Social distancing, basic hygiene, and heightened disinfection efforts continue to be the primary means to contain COVID-19 spread,” said the release from Gordon and Balow. “We strongly encourage everyone to continue these practices.”
In addition to sharing health tips in Monday’s message to families and staff, Curtis also shared resources to help parents visit with their child about this situation.
“We understand children and families may have heightened concerns about exposure to this virus causing stress and anxiety,” he said.
School superintendents planned to meet with the Wyoming Department of Education Monday to discuss various details, such as waivers for school days, paying hourly employees through school closures and digital learning plan requirements.
Balow said she is exploring her ability to hold districts harmless from any financial reduction as a result of the instructional days being lost. In addition, the Wyoming Department of Education has received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools to offer student meals during school closures.