Campbell County School district students will begin their next school year in-person and in classrooms.
The Campbell County School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved the district's reopening plan compiled by its Reopening Task Force at a Wednesday meeting conducted virtually via Zoom.
Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer presented the district’s 23-page reopening plan to the Board of Trustees for the first time in a two-hour work session before the board’s meeting.
Wyoming school districts have until Aug. 3 to submit their reopening plans to the Wyoming Department of Education.
“Our doors will be open, and we’ll have several safety protocols in place,” Eisenhauer said.
It was stressed several times that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a moving target and changes to certain protocols in the plan should be expected.
Gov. Mark Gordon made the same point as he spoke about schools reopening during a Wednesday afternoon press briefing.
Planning to reopen now as the virus continues to spread "is no simple matter," he said. "It’s easy enough to say we’re going to do X or Y, but when you look at the differences in communities … it make sense we have local, informed plans."
Following the guidance of the state’s Smart Start outline, the district's plan divides the possibilities for instruction delivery into three tiers.
- Tier I is on-site in classrooms, where students will attend school daily and in person with additional health precautions.
- Tier II is called “blended” by the district, and will include two to three days a week of in-person instruction coupled with off-site remote learning.
- Tier III is classified as “off-site” where students will receive instruction at home.
In addition to relying on guidance from local and state public health officials, the district conducted surveys of parents and staff to gain input while considering its plan.
At least 76% of parents who responded to the survey favor starting the school year on-site in Tier I, according to the survey results provided in the district’s plan.
The support was similarly robust from staff, with 86% of employees responding that on-site instruction allows them to provide the most effective education for students.
The plan envisions numerous scenarios that could complicate the school year. For example, if a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19, that person will be quarantined at home for a period of time to be determined by Campbell County Public Health.
Contact tracing will be conducted, and those who’d been in close contact with the positive case might be quarantined as well. The school building also could be temporarily or partially closed at the discretion of state and local public health officials to sanitize it before allowing kids and staff back in.
Unaffected schools would remain open, according to the plan.
Other scenarios include a public health order that limits the number of students who can occupy a building or classroom and a statewide order that would close all district facilities like what happened this past spring.
The district is still working out what it would do if a student has a higher risk of illness or if parents are concerned about having their children attending school on-site.
Eisenhauer said he and Superintendent Alex Ayers will attend a webinar Thursday to get more guidance for these scenarios.
Safety measures will begin with parents at home, where students should be screened for 11 symptoms of illness before they ever arrive at a school building. The most important of those are fever and cough, said Director of Student Services Kip Farnum.
Students will be expected to go straight to their classrooms, where they will immediately be expected to wash their hands. They will wash their hands again before each passing period and staff will conduct cursory screenings of students for any signs of symptoms.
Social distancing is deemed the “most protective method” in the plan and will be used when feasible.
What about face masks?
School district officials also answered one major question parents have had about reopening schools — will kids have to wear face masks in their classrooms?
Face masks in Campbell County school will not be required, but will be recommended in areas where social distancing can’t be maintained.
Eisenhauer acknowledged that further guidance could be handed down between now and the start of school from the state or local public health officials that could change the local face mask policy. If the community's situation with the virus changes, it also could affect whether face masks would be required.
Masks also were a topic of discussion during the governor's briefing Wednesday afternoon.
While local districts are making their own plans, overall he thinks parents may have to get used to the idea of their kids wearing masks in class.
"Masks probably have a place in schools reopening," Gordon said, adding he knows that’s not what many parents want to hear. "I just want to make that clear. Masks will help those schools stay open, masks will help them get back to education and (by wearing them) we won’t lose more of that very precious time."
What if someone's symptomatic?
If a student exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, he or she will be required to go home. A designated room or tent will be established at each school for students and staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. It will be called the Symptomatic Screening Room. Students will be required to wear a mask when sent to the Symptomatic Screening Room.
Officials spoke on the elements of the plan in various categories, like safety protocols, facilities and sanitation, curriculum and technology, special education, nutrition services, individual buildings, counseling services and activities.
Facilities and sanitation expenditures are not paid for through the general fund, Eisenhauer said.
The main addition is sanitizing personnel. Twenty more part-time employees who will work six hours a day will sanitize high-touch areas through the day, like handrails, sinks, countertops, doorknobs, lockers and water fountains. This is expected to cost nearly $300,000.
Technology purchases are expected to improve the delivery of remote education. A new learning management system called Schoology was bought by the district. Staff will get professional development sessions in late July and early August to gain familiarity with the system.
The topic that received the most discussion during Wednesday's work session was related to temperature checks at schools. In the initial presentation of the district’s plan, at-school temperature checks were not included as part of the safety measures.
Trustee Dr. Joseph Lawrence made an amendment to the district’s plan that says schools would take temperatures during the first period of the school day, assuming the district could acquire enough thermometers.
After a brief discussion, all the trustees except for Toni Bell voted to approve the amendment.
What about activities and sports?
There wasn't much discussion about whether fall sports or other activities would happen as scheduled.
Activities are not a local-level decision at this point, and the school district is awaiting guidance and decisions from the Wyoming High School Activities Association.