WyoTech is set to open its instructional facilities Monday after leadership announced a new protocol was developed to ensure the safety of students and faculty in response to COVID-19.
An April 30 press release from WyoTech mentioned the assistance of the Wyoming Governor's Office, Wyoming State Health Officer Albany County Health Officer and local officials to create a “Protocol to Promote a Safe and Healthy Environment” specifically for WyoTech-- a privately-owned transportation and automotive trade school .
“It’s a comprehensive plan that stresses personal responsibility, good hygiene and cleaning practices as well as social distancing,’ said Jadeen Mathis, WyoTech's director of communications.
The Governor’s Office has allowed certain types of businesses to reopen as of May 1 with added safety measures. Educational institutions are following different plans. Laramie County Community College has decided to stay virtual for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester and the same goes for the University of Wyoming, which also will remain online for the 2020 summer term.
WyoTech is different, however, in that their classrooms are not big lecture halls that one might see at a university or community colleges, Mathis said.
“Currently we have fewer than 200 students and over 200,000 square feet,” she said. “We don’t face a lot of the challenges with space that other colleges are facing when they are building their plan to resume classes.”
The campus is also self-contained out in West Laramie and students travel less than a block to get from housing to class, she explained.
Calling it a “careful restart” of classes, Laramie Mayor Joe Shumway wished them a successful reopening which he said would also provide them with the opportunity to be a good example for others alike.
“WyoTech has assured the state and county that they will be responsibly cautious as they reopen,” he said.
While WyoTech did not share their completed “protocol” with the Laramie Boomerang, Shumway shared they are taking precautions for a safe reopening, including social distancing, face masks, sanitizing work areas, washing and sanitizing hands.
“WyoTech’s plan has implemented the Centers for Disease Control social distancing and hygiene guidelines and can safely reopen,” said County Health Officer Dr. Jean Allais in the press release.
Shumway also said they will “check students and faculty daily for any symptoms that would prevent them from attending class or participating in classwork.”
WyoTech leaders are sharing their plan and practices with other schools to help them as they plan their reopening procedures. Vice President of Development Beth Young Jones said they even hosted online informational sessions and had several calls from other education providers who want to learn more.
“We can kind of test what a return-to-school looks like,” she said. “WyoTech is fortunate enough to do that and certainly happy to provide that test environment.”
Gov. Mark Gordon's 14-day self-quarantine directive for people coming to Wyoming from out-of-state expired Friday but Laramie council-member Paul Weaver still suggested the self-quarantine plan to WyoTech for its returning students. According to Weaver, that recommendation wasn’t incorporated in WyoTech's protocol but will be proposed to students.
Weaver also said he would’ve preferred WyoTech not resume classes just yet but expressed full understanding of the unique situation of the training school.
“I understand why it's a tough spot. Their education model doesn’t translate to the online education model very well,” he said. “It’s a very hands-on type of training and those students are going to receive their best learning experience when it's hands on.”
Young Jones said although not directly in the protocol, the 14-day self-quarantine will be encouraged.
“We wrote out the plan honoring the 14-day self-quarantine and we will continue to encourage that even though it expired,” she said.
Weaver described WyoTech’s plan as a risky plan mainly because of how people can be asymptomatic and not know they have COVID-19.
“It's a good plan in terms of making the best of the current situation,” he added. “At the same time I think the two-week quarantine would've been for the best interest in our community”
Classes were scheduled to start up again on March 30 but after the governor’s order they postponed training until May 11.
“The safety of our students and staff is always top of mind for us, and we felt like we responded appropriately,” Mathis said. “All businesses have had to make decisions that are tough, and there really isn’t any sort of blueprint for this situation.”
WyoTech has received “overwhelming support” from the Laramie community and industry as they prepare to return to class, she added. With over 200,000 square feet of shop space, WyoTech training can be taught out on the shop floor where they can “maximize and utilize social distancing at a whole new level,” Young Jones said, adding that not all of their classes have a large number of students therefore making it easier to have them remain six feet apart in such a large space.
Another advantage for WyoTech is that students are not required to return on May 11. They can postpone their start date until July as new training programs begin every three months. Faculty are also returning if they feel comfortable doing so, Young Jones said.
“People are trying to make decisions while taking the safety of the community in this completely unique environment,” Weaver said. “You just have to make sure you have all your bases covered… people are just doing the best they can.”