FARMINGTON — Even as schools are wrapping up an unprecedented school year, Davis School District is also looking ahead to the beginning of the next one.
The district’s board met in person Tuesday — its first in-person meeting since pandemic closures. At that meeting, Superintendent Reid Newey’s update on the district’s coronavirus response plan focused on preparations the district is making for next year.
If the state stays in at low-risk status (yellow) or moves to new-normal risk status (green), schools will reopen, according to Mark Peterson, spokesperson for the Utah State Board of Education. This is based on Utah’s phased guidelines on reopening, part of its Utah Leads Together coronavirus response plan.
The big question for district and state leaders right now is the protocols that need to be in place if schools reopen while the state is still at yellow status, he said.
“What does yellow look like in a school?” Peterson said, describing the question leaders are in the process of answering.
Green status is a lot simpler, he said.
“Green looks like school.”
At Davis School District’s board meeting, the discussion focused on that same question — how to prepare to reopen schools on yellow status.
Though reopening under yellow status would bring extra precautions, it would also bring the return of regular extra-curricular activities, according to the state’s phased guidelines to reopen, so there will be some aspects of normalcy.
According to the phased guidelines, all children and staff who are symptomatic will be sent home.
“We’re going to have to have cooperation and/or at least recognition from the public that we will need their students to leave the premises, if they’re exhibiting symptoms,” Newey told the board. This could be a “pressure point,” he said.
The state’s phased guidelines also require that schools have quarantine spaces set up, where children who are symptomatic will stay while waiting to be picked up to go home.
The board discussed what to do when no caretakers are available to pick up or supervise a child sent home, and this is still under discussion, Newey said.
“It’s going to be difficult,” he said. “We don’t have a clear answer for that.”
The district is in the process of identifying spaces in school buildings that can be turned into nursing stations, where children who exhibit symptoms can be quarantined, Newey told the board Tuesday.
“It’s going to be another pressure point for the board, and (the issue is) going to get hotter with parents and even employees in terms of monitoring employees and students for symptoms,” Newey said. “Some people feel that’s offensive in terms of their freedoms.”
In addition, the district will provide a mask to every student and adult in the system, Newey said. Students will be strongly encouraged to wear masks, he said, while the district “has more guidance and control” with employees when it comes to wearing masks.
In order to facilitate contact tracing, the district will use seating charts, Newey said. As part of contract tracing, health department officials trace all of the known recent contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
When it comes to social distancing, the district will not be able to fully comply with recommendations.
The phased guidelines for schools tell them to “seat students 6 feet apart where possible.”
Superintendent Newey had a simple reply.
“That’s not possible,” he said. “So we’ll make sure that’s clear.”
In this case, state guidelines recommend that “students should be seated as far apart as reasonably possible.”
A new version of the Utah Leads Together 3.0 plan was released by the state Wednesday. The updated plan gives some general guidance for the reopening of schools across the state.
“Depending on the evolving situation regarding the pandemic, there may be waves of stopping and starting, partial or staggered openings, other scheduling adjustments such as earlier or later start dates and times, or other developments determined by local health departments, population vulnerability, and more,” the updated plan says about schools. “Planning for various scenarios now will assist schools in being nimble to adapt to changing circumstances.”
The state board of education is working on those plans in cooperation with public health officials and district leaders, Peterson said. An updated plan will be made available just prior to the state board’s next meeting on June 4, he said.