The Board of Education of the Grand County School District approved its COVID-19 school reopening plan Wednesday, July 15 during a regular meeting. The plan calls for a return to in-person classes for most students, though the district is offering flexibility to parents and students who require accommodations.
School will start later this year; rather than sticking with the previously planned Aug. 20 start date, classes will restart for most students on Sept. 8 to give teachers time to plan for the altered mode of teaching in which they will have to engage this year due to the pandemic.
At-risk students who cannot safely return to class can opt to do online learning through the school district, though details on what will entail with online learning at the school district will not be final likely until sometime after Aug. 7, the date by which district parents must commit either to in-person or online instruction for their children.
The guidelines provide myriad details on how school this year will be different. Among the other top-line items:
- Students and teachers will be required to wear face masks in school buildings because of mandates from the state and county regarding masks;
- School district buses will continue to run as normal;
- Field trips will be allowed, subject to board or administration approval;
- After school activities will continue as normal, with procedures listed in the plan also applying to those activities;
- And all district staff will participate in monthly COVID-19 testing through Moab Regional Hospital.
Mask-wearing would be handled as a discipline issue, according to district Superintendent Taryn Kay. This means that young or absentminded students who might wear their mask incorrectly, leave it places, or otherwise mishandle it will get the gentle nudges they need to follow the rules.
For students who express “disrespect,” as Kay said, by refusing to wear a mask or being belligerent about the mask rules, the district and school will adhere to its existing discipline policies.
As for testing school staff, the hospital will have to expand its asymptomatic testing capacity to accommodate the large number of adults who will join the program come late August and early September. Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff said the initial capacity goal was to test 800 people per month and that they would be pushed over that goal with teachers, but she added the hospital staff “are committed to getting it done.”
Since the asymptomatic test is a self-administered nasal swab, Sadoff said she believes the hospital can handle doing more tests. “We have been working with the school district and health department on options for the school nurse to collect [the tests from staff] and send [them] straight to the state lab,” Sadoff said, which “a lot easier” both the school district and the hospital.
The district’s plan focuses on regular cleaning and sanitization as some of the keys to the district’s approach when school resumes, alongside physical distancing measures, teacher trainings, incidence monitoring, outbreak containment, individual accommodations and other “enhanced safety measures,” according to the plan.
Cleaning and sanitization were among the top concerns parents expressed in a recent survey of children in the school district while evidence and reporting suggest that ventilation may be more important to reducing the spread of the coronavirus than the cleaning of surfaces.
The school district plan calls for physical education and chorus classes to be held outside “to the maximum extent possible,” as both activities involve substantial respiration and stand to pose a particular risk for spread of the coronavirus.
Kay also said teachers were advised to hold classes outside when possible because those spaces are better ventilated than indoor spaces. Teachers may also keep windows to the outside open to promote air circulation.
Kay said that the filtration systems used in the schools are rated for filtering of viral particles, which would also help mitigate the spread of disease.