On Wednesday evening, the Carbon School Board discussed plans on re-opening the schools for fall. With the executive order that Governor Gary Herbert put in place on July 7 stating that students K-12 will be required to wear masks, the district’s hands are practically tied.
“We only have so much power,” said Carbon School Board President Wayne Woodward.
Woodward began the agenda item with empathizing that the board’s plan is a living document, meaning that as situations change or as the board has the ability to make more decisions, this document will continue to be updated and edited.
The reopening plan was developed by the Carbon School Board with collaboration from the Utah State Board of Education, Southeast Utah Health Department, Utah’s Phased Guidelines, Leavitt Partners Framework for Mitigating Risk and the Carbon County Educator Association.
As the reopening plan was displayed, Superintendent Lance Hatch stated that they began with the philosophy that ‘All healthy students need to be in school.’
“The experience we had last spring, we don’t ever want to have again,” said Hatch. Hatch continued to emphasize that having kids in school is crucial and we, as a community, need to make that happen.
The School Board’s reopening plans opens with:
“Carbon School District believes ALL HEALTHY STUDENTS NEED TO BE IN SCHOOL. We are committed to do everything necessary to make sure students can take advantage of the optimal learning environment which is provided in our schools classrooms.”
As expected, this school year will look different than years prior. One huge change to the classroom is that each teacher will be provided with a camera and a camera stand. While the teachers will still be teaching a room full of students, the lesson will be streamed for students in need of remote learning. Remote learning will be available for individual students that are unable to attend school due to illness, high-risk or quarantining.
In the school board’s plan, another form of learning is described called virtual learning. Virtual learning will be put in place if the school district is required to shut down again. It will entail teaching and learning taking place via technology or packets.
“If the number of students participating in home quarantine due to illness reaches 30% of the student body in a particular school, or if unusual patterns of illness occur in a specific class, the school will notify the superintendent,” the plan states. “The superintendent, in consultation with the Southeast Utah Health Department, may determine to institute virtual learning. This may be done at the classroom level, school level or district level.”
Hatch explained that virtual learning is not something the district wants to do, but if the schools are forced to shut down like last spring, this is the plan that they have developed.
“Due to the executive order from Governor Herbert, all individuals (students and staff) will be required to wear face coverings (masks) at school and on buses,” the plan continues.
Joyce Larsen, a working mother of three, took to the stand earlier in the meeting to discuss her concerns with the executive order. She explained that one of her children is a student at Castle Valley Center. He has learning disabilities that requires him to take speech therapy.
“With the mask on, that prevents the personal connection that he is going to need to be able to connect with his teachers, to trust them to be able to have them give him the right instruction so he can have a successful life,” said Larsen. “By enforcing a mask everyday, all day on these students, you are inhabiting them from social aspect of school. You are inhabiting them from learning the things they need to learn, the way they learn and you are also making it so there is a distraction that our teachers have to deal with.”
Hatch did explain that they intend to make accommodations for students and staff that need it. These options will entail remote learning, online school, plexiglass or individual transition time shield.
Cleaning and hygiene will also be a large focus for the school district this year. Janitorial staff will be cleaning high touch areas at least daily. Teachers will be required to enforce sanitation breaks to allow students to wash their hands or sterilize their area. Hand sanitizer will be available not only in every classroom, but also at stations placed throughout each building.
Movement through out the school will also be a big change this year. The school board’s goal is to minimize congestion. Entering and exiting the school will be in different areas of the building. Entries and exists will be clearly marked. Exits will be locked from the outside, creating a one way system. Arrows and floor signs will also be used within the schools to communicate the correct paths to take.
This process is enforced to not only lower the congestion of students, but to also help with contact tracing if a positive case is found within in a school. “We will be working very closely with the Health Department if there is a confirmed case,” said Hatch.
Transportation is also a big concern for the district. Bus drivers will be observant of students on their route. If any students are showing symptoms, the bus driver will notify the school immediately and the student will be intercepted before entering the school. Students will still be required to wear face coverings on the bus and they will also be assigned seating to help with tracing if a case is confirmed. Busses will also be sanitized after each route.
In the cafeterias, students will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering. Lunch schedules will also be adjusted to ensure tables are sanitized after each use.
After reviewing Carbon School Boards’ reopening plan, board vice president Jeffery Richens moved to approve the plan as presented. “We will review this periodically to update as needed,” said Richens.
The school board will continue to fight for exemptions in the Governor’s executive order, preferably for five and six year olds and students at the Castle Valley Center.
“If there are high-risk individuals or people with individual situations, we expect them to contact the school. That will trigger a process of looking at options, whether it is a student of a staff member, we will have to brainstorm and work with that person or family to come up with options that will work,” said Hatch.