The Albany County School District No.1 school board unanimously approved an updated reopening plan at a meeting Thursday afternoon, under which all students will likely be allowed to return to in-person education next month.
This plan will be sent to the Wyoming Department of Education for approval. Although district officials said details could change depending on the circumstances, this plan is expected to be in place for the start of school on Aug. 26, absent a serious spike in coronavirus cases.
“Under the conditions that we’re in, there is no final plan,” said Janice Marshall, the chair of the school board. She said that revisions and adjustments to the plan are to be expected even after the academic year begins.
All students will be required to wear masks during classes under the revised plan, Superintendent Jubal Yennie announced at the start of the meeting. This goes even further than the previous plan, which said that face coverings would be required when social distancing was not possible.
This was the third draft of the district’s reopening plan, which the district released Wednesday afternoon. Revisions to the plan were still being made up to the start of the meeting on Thursday, and Yennie said that some details still have to be finalized.
“The plan before you provides a framework for us to address all those issues as we go forward,” Yennie told the board. “Are there holes? Most definitely.”
Teachers and school nurses still do not have clear procedures for how to deal with a student who displays symptoms of the coronavirus, Yennie said. It can be difficult to distinguish symptoms of the common cold from the coronavirus, so they need to create clearer guidelines on when a student must stay home and when they can return to school.
School board members have received well over one thousand comments about the reopening plan in recent weeks, and they read all of them, Marshall said. Many local residents had concerns about the plan, both that it was too cautious and that it was not cautious enough.
“I recognize the imperfections in the plan, but I think it’s the best plan moving forward,” said Jason Tangeman, a member of the school board.
Tangeman supported the adoption of the stronger mask requirement, he said, especially as a way to guarantee that students were able to attend school five days a week.
The plan approved by the board will allow students in all grades to attend each day, a policy that was included in the second version of the plan. Students who do not wish to attend in-person classes will have options to take classes virtually, in which they can receive the same level of classroom instruction over the internet, without ever going into a school building.
Students who opt for the classroom-based virtual option will no longer have to commit to staying in the program for at least a full semester, Yennie said at the meeting Thursday. An earlier version of the reopening plan had asked for that commitment.
About 20 teachers have requested to work from home this fall out of safety concerns, Yennie said. He said they will be able to teach some virtual classes, and they have been almost perfectly spread out among the schools, so this will not cause any shortages.
Teachers who work from home due to a medical concern will not face any adverse effects to their pay, Yennie said. They would be able to proceed on the pay schedule as if it were a normal year.
Jason Satkunam, a school board member, asked what procedures the district has put in place to deal with students who refuse to wear masks in class. Some teachers have expressed concerns about their role in enforcing the rule at a time when many people doubt the efficacy or safety of masks, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
If a student does not want to wear a mask in school, then they should stay home and choose the virtual option, Yennie said. The reopening plan makes clear that students who choose to attend in-person classes must comply with the district’s health and safety requirements.
Some school board members expressed concerns that there might not be enough time to safely open schools on time. Classes are scheduled to begin on Aug. 26, less than four weeks from now.
“My only concern with starting is whether we have the personal protective equipment,” said Beth Bear, a member of the school board. Bear said that she does not want to delay the school opening, but that it is essential that all of the necessary supplies can be procured before then.
The district is on track to procure supplies and prepare classrooms before the planned start of school, Yennie said.
Yennie and his staff in the district administration received praise from most of the board members for their work since the spring to make sure that schools could open in accordance with federal and state guidelines, even as those guidelines have repeatedly evolved.
“I wouldn’t go through a pandemic with any other superintendent,” said Lawrence Perea, a school board member.