ST. GEORGE — Following the Utah State Board of Education’s approval to forward its draft of requirements and recommendations for reopening public K-12 schools in the fall to Gov. Gary Herbert, the Washington County School District board met last week to discuss ideas for implementation and how best to provide the best-case scenario for keeping students in the classroom and returning to a normal life.
Washington County Superintendent Larry Bergeson stressed the importance to the board in understanding how their decisions and implementation of the state board guidelines will impact whether schools stay in session.
“What people need to realize – what we need to realize – is that we’re largely in control of what we’re going to do to keep school in session,” he said.
Officials worry that the more pushback there is against sanitizing, disinfecting or wearing masks at times when social distancing cannot be maintained, the more chance there is in risking a rise in COVID-19 cases and schools having to close.
“We’re going to have to look at restrictions of group gatherings like dances and assemblies,” Bergeson said. “Even when the public comes in for sporting events, with the UHSAA, we’ve got to be smart in how we do that. Why? If cases go up and up and there’s enough concern that way … we shut ourselves down.”
How local districts implement the state board recommendations will greatly determine the pathway forward. Bergeson said they plan on being as flexible as possible and preparing at all levels in mitigating risk so that students can continue in-person learning.
“So that parents can go to work, so that we can have a normal life and we can move forward with this,” he said.
Board member Laura Hesson pointed out that the state board recommendations require local school boards to develop a comprehensive plan for reopening and then it must be approved during a public, open meeting.
“We have to have a plan completely laid out and then have a public meeting,” she said.
In addition to this, as stated in the state board plan, local education agencies are required to make available their approved comprehensive reopening plans to the public on the local education agency’s and each school’s websites by Aug. 1.
A mandatory requirement for students to wear face coverings in cases where social distancing cannot be maintained has received backlash from both members of the board and parents in the community in recent weeks.
Under state requirements on the Utah State Board of Education draft proposal sent to Herbert, face coverings are required for faculty and staff when social distancing cannot be maintained. But for students, face coverings fall under the list of recommendations and schools are encouraged to explore strategies to utilize them.
Bergeson said under the recommendations, students would have 15 minutes to gather without social distancing before masks would be required.
To this, Hesson asked why sports are being treated differently than schools.
Bergeson said that with sports, there will be active, strict symptom monitoring, such as regular temperature checks.
Hesson then suggested temperature checks as a good alternative and would help make schools a little more normal.
Bergeson said it would be fairly difficult to implement a requirement for checking temperatures of every single student every single day.
“If we can get the devices and afford them, then we’ll be checking,” he said.
The challenge with Southern Utah is that it receives many visitors from out of town, which increases risk. For parents who are uncomfortable sending their children back to school, there will be a remote option, Bergeson said. He said they plan on doing whatever is necessary in order to keep kids in school and help all “return to a normal life.”
On Friday, the board sent out a letter to parents indicating that they will be opening for in-person instruction in August.
Steven Dunham, communications director for the district, told St. George News that they received a template from the state board pertaining to the reopening guidelines that they were instructed to submit by Aug. 1.
“We’re working on our template now for reopening. We’re doing similar what the state has done. We’re filling out that template and giving it to schools to modify for their specific elements,” Dunham said.
The board remains unanimous in approving in-person instruction and plans to share further information after July 14.
Herbert released a statement Monday morning officially approving the state board’s reopening requirements and recommendations, which will be implemented into the state’s Phased Guidelines for the General Public and Businesses to Maximize Public Health and Economic Reactivation, version 4.7.
Updated June 29, 11:52 a.m. with information to reflect Gov. Gary Herbert’s approval of Utah State Board of Education draft proposal.
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