EVANSTON — Uinta County School District No. 1 has released its Reopening Strategic Plan, which Superintendent Ryan Thomas said “meets and exceeds the requirements found in the Wyoming Department of Education’s Smart Start Plan.” Thomas’ statement continued by referencing the pandemic and the civil unrest in the country that are “unprecedented and challenging” for everyone, including the district, as officials work to reopen school. He also noted, “Now more than ever, the safety of our students and staff must be our number one priority … we will all need to accept the responsibility to have our schools open, orderly, and most importantly, safe for our students and staff.”
The plan is based on a set of guiding principles outlined at the beginning of the document.
The plan states the district will resume face-to-face in-person instruction for students on Aug. 24 and is developing an online learning option for students with an underlying medical condition that identifies them as at-risk of significant complications due to infection with the novel coronavirus. Delayed start Mondays will continue “to provide time for teachers to collaborate with peers working on curriculum, student interventions and meeting student needs.”
Breakfast and lunch will continue to be served to all students “in a format specific to each school.” The plan states hygiene will be emphasized, physical distancing will be required, schedules may be modified and designated eating areas throughout the school will be identified, with the possibility that classrooms may also be required eating areas. When physical distancing cannot be maintained, masks or face coverings will be required in eating areas, and self-serve options, as well as microwave usage, will be eliminated unless and until health orders change.
Masks or face coverings will also be required at all times for school bus transportation for all students and adults. The guiding principles also state, “When required by local health orders, every employee and student will be expected to wear a mask or face covering when 6 feet of physical distancing cannot be maintained. Examples include, but are not limited to, transportation to and from school, common areas, transition times, classrooms and when arriving and dismissing from school. Allowances may be made under the discretion of the teacher when 6 feet of physical distancing can be maintained or when outdoors.”
A survey will be sent to parents on Monday, July 27, to allow for feedback on the reopening plan and allow parents to indicate whether they would like their children to attend school in person or if they would prefer an online option. Survey responses are due by 9 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 3. After surveys are received and results tabulated to allow for allocation of district resources, students will be assigned a class schedule and teacher.
A huge area of emphasis in the plan for both staff and students is the necessity of daily monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 and staying home when any symptoms are present. Symptoms listed include a fever greater than 100.4 degrees; cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; chills or muscle aches; sore throat; and loss of smell or taste, and also states students should not attend school if they have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 10 days. “Students and employees showing COVID symptoms should not return to school or work until they have followed all of the criteria established by the local health department or their health care provider.”
Schools will reportedly make use of thermometers and “temperature kiosks” to screen students upon entry to buildings. The document also emphasized frequent handwashing and providing opportunities for such during the school day; hand sanitizer dispensers will reportedly be located near all school entrances and at various locations throughout each school.
The document states classroom equipment and supplies should not be shared by students and indicates staff will be responsible for disinfecting equipment and supplies, as well as desktops, doorknobs and light switches, between class periods. Students will be expected to sit in assigned seats in every class and when being transported by school bus to promote physical distancing. Students are also encouraged to bring a water bottle to school every day, not to share food or drink with others and are asked not to use drinking fountains.
Schools will develop plans and use signage to designate traffic flow directions in hallways. Schools will also “establish protocols for any visitors and non-regular staff including, at a minimum, temperature checking and the wearing of a mask or face covering.”
Expectations specific to elementary schools include “recess with added safety measures encouraged,” with fewer than 250 students on an outdoor playground at a time. Students will be required to wash their hands upon returning to the classroom.
At all grade levels, “students should face forward and be appropriately spaced.” In addition, students entering and exiting schools will utilize a door assigned by grade level to minimize congestion at any one entrance. All schools will also develop and identify “quarantine areas” for any student or staff member who becomes symptomatic during the school day.
Activities will be operated “in a way that maximizes social distancing, use of face coverings and appropriate hygiene measures;” however, “events with a large number of students and/or parents will be postponed until restrictions to indoor gatherings are lifted or relaxed by the governor. Examples of events with a large number of students would include open houses, assemblies, music concerts, grade-level meetings, banquets and plays.”
Should conditions change and state or local public health officials require it, the district has the option to shift to Tier II learning, which would be a hybrid of in-person and distance learning, with 50% of students on-campus at one time with a rotating schedule. Each school will develop an individual plan for how to divide up students, whether it be by last name or some other grouping mechanism, as well as a plan to divide up school time, either by “A” and “B” days or a morning-afternoon split. The same safety, hygiene and other precautions as Tier I in-person instruction would remain in place.
If needed, the district could also shift to Tier III instruction, which would be complete closure of in-person instruction necessitating entirely distance learning. Should either Tier II or Tier III plans be implemented, the situation would be reviewed every three weeks to determine, in consultation with health officials, if it is safe to return to Tier I in-person instruction.
Throughout the document, staff are encouraged to “be mindful of your own, students’ and coworkers’ health and safety concerns, which may include wearing a face covering.” The plan also states teachers should “remain flexible with student attendance as you address the needs of individual students, while meeting learning standards and professional expectations. Attendance should not be a factor in student grades. Modifications will be made to students’ attendance policies to support learning during the pandemic.”
However, the planning document also states, “District and school administration will closely monitor staff and student absenteeism and report to Uinta County Public Health frequently.”
The plan also stresses that it is a “living document” that may need to be changed or updated as conditions related to the pandemic change.
An opening statement from Thomas says, “A healthy fear of this virus is beneficial if it drives us to take the necessary precautions to limit the spread in our schools. Just as the cold and influenza [viruses] cannot be totally avoided in our schools, COVID is a reality we must face. Even following the guidelines of our local, state and federal officials, and taking the most responsible precautions, this first step of opening schools will still be scary. It may take months to build confidence in our procedures and protocols that will result in 100% of our students and staff returning to school. That may be our biggest challenge this school year, rebuilding the confidence not only in the safety of our school system but getting our society back to normal as much as possible.”
Thomas concluded by saying, “We are planning a Tier I opening and we will only change if required by state and local health officials. Each of us has a part to play in this plan. Working together, we have demonstrated that we can accomplish great (difficult) things. I look forward to accomplishing many more great things together in our future.”
Additional details of how the reopening will impact procedures and processes in individual schools will be provided with each school’s back-to-school information.