Campbell County School District students will return to the classroom in a month, and when they do, they’ll be free of many of the restrictions that defined the past school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district's board of trustees had its regular July meeting Wednesday and was briefed on what the upcoming school year will look like.
Kirby Eisenhauer, the district’s deputy superintendent, started with the biggest issue that spurred complaints throughout the past school year: face masks.
Students will not be required to wear them.
“We will support students and staff that choose to wear those, but they will not be required,” Eisenhauer said.
He said the district will continue to ask parents to screen students at home for COVID-19 symptoms, and if they exhibit any, parents should keep them home from school.
“At this time, we don’t plan to do temperature checks when the students come to the building like we did last year, but we’ll follow the previous year’s procedures if the student becomes ill at school,” Eisenhauer said.
Breakfast and lunch service will return to normal at all locations, instead of like last year, where some teachers had to host meals in their classrooms. The plastic partitions put up for social distancing last school year will only be used if necessary, Eisenhauer said. But starting out, they won’t be used.
As a result of the increased traffic in school cafeterias, Eisenhauer said the sanitizer positions that were added last year will continue on this year.
Visitors also will be welcomed back into the buildings.
“Activities will continue with no limit on spectator attendance, so no more tickets,” Eisenhauer said, adding the fire marshal’s occupancy limits will be the only restrictions going forward.
But Eisenhauer said that while the district was making that decision for itself, teams, coaches, players and fans would have to respect the rules set by other school districts when traveling there. If those schools have COVID-19 protocols in place, they will be followed.
The district’s fifth graders will be able to attend Mallo Camp in the fall, and the sixth graders who missed out on their chance last year will go in the spring, Eisenhauer said.
All of the positive developments are sure to please parents and students, who mostly just want school to carry on as they always had before the pandemic. But the reality of COVID-19 still looms large, especially as many states across the nation are dealing with the more transmissible Delta variant.
“Some things that we will still need to follow is quarantine,” Eisenhauer said. “It’s still in play. For anyone determined to be positive, anyone in close contact with that person will need to quarantine.”
Eisenhauer said that Campbell County Public Health consulted with the district and devised a new definition of “close contact." A person is deemed to be in close contact when he or she has been within 3 feet for 15 consecutive minutes.
The old definition held the distance to be 6 feet, Eisenhauer said.
“Our biggest concern at this point is we can expect, probably, that we’ll have students quarantining,” Eisenhauer said. “We no longer have the double-mask rule, which gave some leeway.”
The double-mask rule was in place throughout the latter half of the past year, and under the rule if a student was determined to be in close contact with another student or staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 but both the student and a person in close contact with them were wearing face masks, the student was not required to quarantine.
Both Eisenhauer and Superintendent Alex Ayers, as well as members of the board, repeatedly praised the double-mask rule for helping decrease quarantine numbers and cited quarantine concerns as justification for leaving the district’s mask mandate in place through the end of the school term.
Eisenhauer said that he was waiting on further guidance from the Wyoming Department of Education on the use of technology to stream class sessions for students who are in quarantine, but he said he was hopeful that rules from last year would carry over. The ability to stream classes online allowed students to avoid being counted absent.
A newer development that only affected the final months of the past school year is the widespread availability of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. Campbell County residents as young as 12 years old can get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“If a student has been vaccinated, has completed their second vaccination and it’s two weeks after that point, and they are in a close-contact situation but they don’t exhibit symptoms, they would not need to quarantine,” Eisenhauer said.
He also said that public health had given guidance on situations where students or staff who’d already had COVID-19 and since recovered were back in a close-contact situation with another student or staff member who was found to be positive for COVID-19. If the two-week period had passed since the contact and they hadn’t shown any symptoms, they would not have to quarantine.
The district made clear that being vaccinated is not required of staff.
“So it’s OK that administrators and teachers aren’t vaccinated?” trustee Larry Steiger asked Eisenhauer.
“It’s up to them individually,” Eisenhauer said. “The vaccine is available and has been available for some time. We’re not enforcing or directing anyone to take the vaccine because we consider that a personal choice and will allow them to do that on their own.”
Chairwoman Anne Ochs said the personal choice point was an important one, not just for teachers but also for families.
“It’s up to each family, though,” Ochs said. “If those families want their kids to come to school with masks, they will be supported. Some kids may tease them, and that’s something we need to make sure our teachers are aware of. There are kids with health conditions that may need to continue wearing masks, and we need to support those kids.”