Local schools weigh options in establishing COVID protocols

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

School boards across the county will wrestle with mask mandates for students when they meet later this month. And as one superintendent pointed out, not everyone will agree with whatever decision is made. (Stock photo)

Schools were out for the summer, and the masks stripped off with school administrators looking toward the 2021-22 year being mask-free. The number of new cases reported by the county health department dipped into single digits.

But with the onset of the Delta variant in the past few weeks, school districts are looking at what precautions they will need to make sure their students are safe.

“We have thought about very little else,” said Shawn Thomas, superintendent for Jayhawk USD 346. “We want to protect the kids.”

The district, which serves the lower half of the county except for Pleasanton, had a mask mandate in place last year. It began the last school year using a hybrid model where students would do remote learning classes part of the week and attend classes in person the other part.

However, after a few weeks, the district returned to all in-person learning. He said that hybrid model helped the district decide on how to proceed.

“It gave us a strategy where we could keep kids safe,” said Thomas, who assumed the superintendent post in July after he had been working as the junior-senior high school principal.

He added that the district board of education would meet next week to discuss what steps to take. The first day of school for Jayhawk students is Aug. 19.

Rex Bollinger, Prairie View USD 362 superintendent is also working on an updated COVID-19 mitigation plan for the 2021-2022 school year. He plans to present it to the board of education next Monday night, Aug. 9.

He said his goal is for students to be able to learn and play, with a focus on in person learning. There will still be temperature checks, as well as cleaning and sanitizing in classrooms and throughout the buildings.

The new plan, along with masking options will be discussed by the board, he said.

Last school year, Prairie View started school a week late to give teachers and staff the ability to get technology set up in classrooms. Students were given the option of attending in person with masks required, attending classes online from home, or doing independent study modules at home through arrangements with the district office.

The first day of school in the Prairie View district this year is Aug. 19.

A team of Pleasanton USD 344 staff will meet this week to start developing a proposal for COVID-19 protocol for this school year, said Travis Laver, district superintendent. Hopefully that group will have a plan in place to be discussed by the board of education next Monday, he added.

School begins for Pleasanton students on Aug. 25

Laver said that large classrooms in the district and smaller class sizes will work to the advantage of the district in trying to keep students to maintain social distancing. “Three feet is no problem for us.”

Although already a handful of staff members are quarantined because they have contracted the virus, a good percentage of the staff has been vaccinated, he said. And the district nurse is working to convince more to take the shot.

Last year the Pleasanton district had a mask mandate, and he said that could be the recommendation of the group. He said the district will be working with the Linn County Health Department. “The health department has a wonderful resource for the schools to work with,” he said. “They want kids in the classrooms as much as we do.”

Last year, Pleasanton had less than a handful of cases that required quarantines. And last year, the district took students’ temperatures as they entered the schools. That might not happen this year, because not all cases of COVID-19 are accompanied by a fever, he said.

Laver said the first line of defense against spreading the infection was parents. Parents screening their children before school is critical.

No matter what the school boards for the individual districts decide, all three superintendents expect pushback from parents.

With many decisions like this half the people are happy and half the people are mad at the same time, Laver said.

“It’s too bad that politics has been involved with this as much as it has,” he said.

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable stress for school administrators. “They didn’t train us for this in college,” Laver said.

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