As questions about how to go back to school amid the ongoing pandemic swirl around America, Powell school leaders have provided a clear answer to parents: Schools will reopen as scheduled on Tuesday, …
As questions about how to go back to school amid the ongoing pandemic swirl around America, Powell school leaders have provided a clear answer to parents: Schools will reopen as scheduled on Tuesday, Aug. 25.
“I still believe that the best place for the majority of our students is going to be in the school buildings,” Jay Curtis, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1, said Friday. “We are working really, really hard to provide the necessary safety measures to make sure that we are able to have students and staff in our buildings safely.”
The district’s reopening plan outlines three tiers that are designed to respond to varying levels of COVID-19 activity and restrictions.
Under Tier I, schools will be open with “social distancing and face coverings to the greatest extent possible,” as well as other health and safety measures. The district will open under this tier on Aug. 25.
Tier II calls for a hybrid model: A combination of in-person and adapted learning. Buildings would be open with limited access and capacity “to allow for more stringent social distancing.”
“The ‘hybrid’ model of instruction will occur if health orders are issued that further restrict the number of staff and students that can be in our facilities,” the reopening plan says. “The hybrid model will be very fluid as dictated by health orders.”
Under Tier II, alternative schedules may be used, so buildings are at 50% capacity. Another option is for small-group instruction at school, while most students learn remotely.
Tier III calls for school buildings to be closed to students due to local or state health orders.
“Classroom-based virtual education will be the primary mode of education in Tier III,” the plan says. Families lacking internet access will be offered a district-owned Verizon Jetpack, as available.
Parents who want to have their children receive their education at home, regardless of the tier, can submit an application for remote instruction.
“We need to have that application process just so we know what we’re dealing with and make sure that we can provide high quality services to your students at home,” Curtis said in a video message to parents.
Families that would like to receive remote instruction are asked to contact their child’s school by Friday.
“If your child is medically necessitated to be at home, there’s a homebound instruction piece, that’s a whole different thing,” Curtis said. “Your best bet is to call and have a discussion with the principal of your school.”
The district submitted its reopening plan to the Wyoming Department of Education last week. Park 1 hopes to operate under the Tier I guidelines without having to move to the second or third tiers. Using personal protective equipment (PPE), barriers and maintaining social distancing will help keep schools open, Curtis said.
“Ultimately, we will take our cues from public health,” he said. “If they come in and say, ‘You must close the school for a period of time,’ we will comply with that.”
New protocols call for every Park 1 student, employee and visitor to have their temperatures taken upon entering school buildings. That includes fans attending sporting events.
Curtis added that “we recognize that there are lots and lots of things that cause a fever that are not COVID-19” and schools will not treat every child with a fever as if they have the new coronavirus.
“However, in this day and age, there will be a heightened sense of awareness on kids who are coming in with a fever,” Curtis said.
Parents and guardians will be asked to monitor their children for any COVID-19 symptoms — such as cough, fever or sore throat — before sending them to school or putting them on the bus. “In order to keep our schools open, everyone is going to have to be partners and be diligent,” Curtis said.
The school district will provide cloth gaiters for students, which will serve as a face covering when social distancing is not achievable.
“Although we will not require students or staff to wear masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) full time while in school, we will be requiring all staff and students to wear a cloth gaiter throughout the day,” says the school district’s reopening plan.
The district will wash the provided gaiters daily, or parents can choose to supply and clean face coverings for their child.
“We are committed to fostering a respectful environment in which there are no stigmas associated with wearing masks or face coverings,” the plan says.
Face coverings will likely be required during transitions between classes and school release, when social distancing may not be possible. Schools will try to avoid situations where large groups of students are gathered in one place, so adjustments will be made to how students move between classrooms and other spaces.
“We’re going to be keeping kids far more compartmentalized than we ever have,” Curtis said. “Not necessarily at the high school, because there’s just no way to do it there, but at the middle school and elementary [schools], we’re going to be able to keep kids compartmentalized.”
Plexiglass barriers will be used in some classrooms, particularly for younger students. Schools will also be using some plexiglass table partitions in cafeterias and will consider staggered schedules or additional spaces for meals, so fewer kids will be in the cafeteria at one time.
“It’s different at every school, because every school has a different setup,” Curtis said.
As the weather allows, PE classes and perhaps some choir classes will be held outdoors, Curtis said.
“We know that the transmission of COVID outdoors is very, very low,” he said.
As the first day of school approaches, school leaders will provide more answers for students and families.
“I know there’s a lot of questions out there: ‘What is lunch going to look like? What is recess going to look like? How often will my child have to wear their face covering?’” the superintendent said Friday. “I just know that there are a lot of burning questions; we intend to answer all of those in the coming weeks.”