School is reopening Aug. 19, in Sevier County, and district officials are working to make it as normal as possible, according to Superintendent Cade Douglas.
“We can’t eliminate all risks, but we can mitigate,” Douglas said. He said the district is following guidance given by the department of health, as well as the American Association of Pediatrics, in opening the county’s schools. Another factor that was weighed was a survey given to parents of students. With approximately 5,000 students and 2,300 family groups, the district received 2,500 responses to the survey.
“A strong majority, 70 percent, favor going back to a regular schedule in the fall,” Douglas said. He said currently the district is aiming to do just that — resume school with a full slate, but the final decision is to be made Monday, July 27, in consultation with the Central Utah Public Health Department.
The same, but different
One thing that will change is the requirement students wear masks while in school. Douglas said they are following an executive order by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and an order by the state health department specifically requiring masks in all kindergarten through 12th grade schools in the state.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to comply with the orders like we would any other law,” Douglas said. “We’re trying not to be political, and masks have become political for a lot of people.”
Douglas said the district’s focus will be on education and encouragement, not “policing mask use.”
Douglas said the use of masks may also result in teachers finding opportunities for students to go outside where they can distance and take the masks off periodically.
“We need to make sure our students and staff have time to have breaks from wearing the masks,” Douglas said.
“They are the number two best way to mitigate the spread of this virus,” Douglas said.
The number one mitigating factor is making sure students with symptoms stay home.
One question that has been raised is students who have allergies may appear to be symptomatic.
“We’re going to be flexible,” Douglas said. He said in the case of seasonal allergies, one might get a doctor’s note if there are concerns.
Another change students can expect when they return is how their desks are arranged. Seating in class will be spread out as far as possible.
“We won’t be able to get a full six feet, but every bit of distance helps,” Douglas said.
Students who are vulnerable or who are self-isolating will also have the option of participating in class via webcam technology.
“The key in online instruction is to stick to a schedule,” Douglas said. He said students who opt to use online instruction will be expected to attend class virtually at the same time as their classmates do.
“That way they can participate,” Douglas said. He said by following the same schedule across the board, students who are at home can feel more like they are part of the class. It will also help prevent them from falling behind.
“It won’t be put it up and maybe watch it later,” Douglas said.
Moving into the school year will require flexibility on everyone’s part, Douglas said.
“We are already modifying parts of our protocol,” Douglas said. He said there will be modifications as the situation with COVID-19 develops.
“Everyone will have to give a little to make it work,” Douglas said. “We’re trying to take into account all the variables, including physical, social, emotional and academic health.”
Flexibility also means offering the online option to those who are concerned.
Staggered class releases and transitions are also expected to limit the number of students in the hall at any one time. The same is true with meal service at the schools, with emphasis being put on distancing during lunch.
The science so far supports the idea that for children, the coronavirus isn’t as serious as for adults.
“For our area, it doesn’t make sense to keep schools closed,” Douglas said.
There are currently 27 active coronavirus patients in Sevier County, and a total of 70 diagnoses of the disease since tracking of the pandemic began in March by the health department. Six of the cases have been diagnosed within the last week.
By instituting smaller quarantines for those who are symptomatic and those who have had contact with them, schools should be able to function, Douglas said.
“What people need to remember is this isn’t going to be forever,” Douglas said. “We’re going to get through this.”
Oxford University reported in a scientific journal published Monday that the human trials of a coronavirus vaccine have had promising results.