Masks encouraged, not required for schools

Cassie Torres, Caleb Guild and Dan Wheeler discuss the district’s previous attempt to pursue bonding to construct a community fieldhouse at Evanston High School. The discussion came during the Aug. 3 school board meeting in Evanston, where officials also discussed the district’s reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3, when board members and district administration discussed the reopening plan for schools in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Wyoming Department of Education did not require schools to create an official reopening plan similar to last year for the 2021-22 school year, district superintendent Ryan Thomas said administration felt it was important to have a plan.

That plan includes three tiers of operation, from green or normal status to red or online learning status. Thomas said the plan is to open school on Aug. 23 at a green level, with normal operations with enhanced health and safety protocols. Thomas said the most frequently asked question is if a mask mandate will be in place for staff and students and the current answer is that there will not be a mandate; however, masks will be recommended per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Wyoming Department of Health.

Thomas said he wanted to make clear that no “mask shaming” will be tolerated based on someone’s decision to wear or not wear a mask. He said the goal is to keep students attending in-person school for the entirety of the school year, which the district was able to successfully achieve last year. However, masks were required for students and staff for the duration of the 2020-21 school year.

In a discussion during the board meeting, board chair Jami Brackin expressed concern about the Delta variant and the possibility that it is hitting children harder than previous virus variants and indicated the board will be monitoring the situation carefully, especially as children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Thomas said the district will continue to work closely with Uinta County Public Health staff, noting they have been “great” to work with, and said that staff and student attendance will be a key metric in determining if the district will need to implement more restrictions. Per CDC and WDH guidance, students and staff who have been vaccinated or have tested positive for SARS CoV-2 in the past three months will not need to quarantine if exposed to someone who is positive. Similarly, quarantine will not be necessary if both the infected person and the exposed person are wearing masks. However, other individuals will have to quarantine for a minimum of seven days before being allowed to return to school, provided they have no symptoms of COVID-19 infection and have tested negative for the virus. If individuals choose not to get tested, a 14-day quarantine is required.

Brackin said a primary advantage for people to be vaccinated and/or masked is that such individuals will not have to quarantine. Thomas said it is possible the district will provide some type of incentives for staff to get vaccinated; however, it had not been determined what type of incentives might be offered.

Thomas said the district will take whatever steps are necessary to keep students in school and if absenteeism or spread in school become a problem and masks need to be mandated to keep staff and students safe, “so be it.”

Parents are again being asked to monitor their children daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and for students and staff to remain home if such symptoms are present.

In other business, trustees discussed the community fieldhouse proposal that voters defeated at the November 2020 general election, which would have been funded through an increase in property tax. Board member Dan Wheeler said he would like to continue to pursue other means of securing funding for a fieldhouse to both meet students’ needs and to provide an economic boost to the community.

Wheeler said he plans to reach out to other local entities in hopes of creating a partnership and investigating other funding sources and not simply trying the same approach in hopes voters would approve the proposal a second time around.

Thomas said one of the lessons from last year’s failed attempt is that the short window of a few months to inform the public on the proposal and its impacts was not enough. Trustee Joel Wiedrich, who attended the meeting via telephone, agreed and said he didn’t want to use an approach that had already failed once.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Ingalls then gave trustees a report on the district’s summer school program, which served approximately 350 students at all grade levels. Ingalls said the summer school program provides a 20-day opportunity for learners to receive instruction, some of whom are the district’s “most vulnerable” population.

Ingalls said about 150 students in the K-5 population attended the program, as did about 75 middle school students who were able to earn/recover 214 credits. At the high school level, approximately 125 students passed 224 classes. Evanston High School Principal Merle Lester said the high school students included five who completed credits in order to graduate. Lester also noted that 100% of the students who attended summer school successfully completed their courses and earned the credits they would have been missing otherwise.

Trustees also heard a proposal from local physical therapist Justin Dennis as part of the district’s efforts to secure a full-time athletic trainer for Evanston High School. Dennis’s Impact Physical Therapy joined Evanston Regional Hospital and Star Valley Community Health Centers in presenting proposals. Thomas suggested it may be a good idea to issue a formal request for information to be able to compare proposals and make a decision.

The district also held yet another public hearing on Rule CKA, the district’s proposed concealed carry rule. Only one person addressed the board and that individual had also spoken on two previous occasions when the board has held public hearings on the issue over the past four years. Public comments can still be submitted in writing until Sept. 15. The Rule and accompanying information can be found on the district’s website.

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