Park City School District outlines plan for reopening next month
The Park City Board of Education on Tuesday approved a plan to reopen schools next month, offering parents a detailed overview of the district’s preparations regarding topics ranging from school lockers to band practice to what happens when a student tests positive for COVID-19.
Superintendent Jill Gildea stressed that the plan is likely to change, but the district’s goal is to get back to in-person learning.
“There is shared sacrifice in returning. In returning, it takes the community’s will to keep everybody healthy and to be able to meet in person. … It takes a good amount of partnership to be able to return safely,” Gildea said.
Board members voted unanimously for the plan, which officials say offers parents a choice among sending their students back into schools full time, completing their coursework remotely, or a combination of the two.
“I thought it was extremely thorough,” Board President Andrew Caplan said in an interview. “I think it’s a really difficult project to undertake because the guidelines from all the different parties … (are) constantly updating every day, so it makes it tough.”
A version of the plan is due to the Utah State Board of Education by Aug. 1. Gildea stressed the plan approved by the board was a draft and would likely change amid the changing circumstances. Parents and others will have a chance to weigh in on the plan in upcoming online information sessions.
“It’s our first draft. Plans published July 7, they’re far out of date … even plans published July 17 are out of date,” she said.
Parents face an Aug. 7 deadline to choose which education option fits their student.
Each student in the Park City School District will be automatically registered to come back to school in person. If a family chooses to opt out of in-person learning, or has questions about the process, Gildea said a school principal or counselor would work with them to come up with an individualized plan.
As of now, if a family selects the remote-learning option, the student will be locked into that preference for either the first quarter or trimester, depending on the student’s age.
Gildea said that educators and staff learned lessons from the spring’s experience in distance learning, including the importance of pacing, having a predictable schedule and synchronous learning in which students learn from teachers in real time.
Remote students will be expected to check in with teachers at appointed times during the day and will have a set schedule. They will be taught by Park City School District teachers, but will be in a distinct class rather than an offshoot of an in-person class. Gildea indicated they would be able to opt for in-person learning after the first quarter or trimester, and the goal is to reduce the differentiation in learning between groups of students.
The hybrid model will use online material to supplement in-person learning and will likely come into play if a student is absent from school for an extended but relatively short period of time, like if a quarantine is required.
The superintendent stressed the importance of pacing in the hybrid model, especially to enable students to seamlessly rejoin their classmates for in-person learning. And while students would be free to work ahead of the requirements, they would still have to check in with teachers at set points during the day in an effort to implement a schedule.
Already, there are differences between the plan approved by the board and the information Gildea presented at the meeting Tuesday night. According to the presentation materials, which Gildea said reflected the latest guidance from state and national agencies, a student or staff member could return to school in certain circumstances after one asymptomatic day without the aid of medicine, rather than a three-day period that had previously been recommended.
Gildea said that, to some extent, the district is treating COVID-19 like other infectious diseases that can plague schools like whooping cough or norovirus.
“It doesn’t mean if one person has COVID the whole school goes home, that’s not what happens,” she said. “It’s an isolate and mitigate strategy, so isolate the cases where you can, prevent an outbreak by having people isolate when they need to.”
If a teacher tests positive, a substitute will come in to teach the class. Substitutes will be assigned to particular schools to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
Gildea said if a student tests positive, it doesn’t mean the entire class must quarantine, but that the room itself might undergo deep cleaning and students might be asked to watch for symptoms.
“This is going to be the challenge that we’re going to face,” Gildea said about how to respond to a positive test. “It will not immediately be an entire classroom. Other than maybe relocating a room for some deeper cleaning and sanitizing. One person does not necessarily clear out the entire classroom.”
According to the criteria, a person who has exhibited symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 may return to school after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart if they have not had a fever in the previous 24 hours without the aid of medicine.
Schools will play a key role in contact tracing for cases of COVID-19, Gildea said, along with the Summit County Health Department. Many of the protocols put in place to combat the spread of the virus involve social distancing and increased hygiene practices, but are also meant to aid in potential contact tracing efforts if an outbreak were to occur. Teachers are expected to keep track of which students spend long periods of time in close proximity and seating will be assigned.
The board answered questions from the public for about an hour during its meeting, and common themes included the potential emotional impact of wearing masks, especially for younger students, and what to do if a student, educator or family member comes down with COVID-19.
Gildea indicated that the district would be flexible when it came to mask-wearing, but that it would be a requirement. The district recommends staff wear both face shields and masks.
Other steps the district is taking, some of which are very costly, include securing personal protective equipment like masks and face shields to distribute to staff and students and upgrading the air filtration systems in school facilities with high-grade filters and ionizers.
Caplan estimated COVID-related costs could approach $2 million district-wide.
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Park City School District’s Board of Directors is getting closer to a price tag for its district-wide plan to increase class space and improve wraparound services at its schools, but no decision has been made on how much of that $140 million will be part of a bond election.