By Jason Hoekema
The Ava R-1 Board of Education unanimously approved plans to address the mitigation of COVID and a school reopening policy during a special board meeting held Monday, August 9.
With COVID remaining a concern as the nation enters its second school year facing the virus, Superintendent Aaron Dalton sat with the six-seat panel to discuss a “range of options,” to address reopening schools while also protecting student and staff populations.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to issue guidance at a federal level, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has issued its own bulletin allowing local jurisdictions to determine their own course of action relating to K-12 education.
The DHSS emphasizes the need to address frequent changes in data and protect unvaccinated populations as the spread of new variants begin to grip the country.
Currently individuals under the age of 12 cannot receive the vaccine, thus calling for the need of layered prevention strategies in school settings.
The CDC continues to urge the use of masks indoors in both healthy and affected populations, only mandating the use of face covering on public transportation which also includes school buses. Masks will be made available for those who staff or utilize school buses.
As of now, there is no federal or state mandate requiring vaccinations or proof of inoculation.
The DHSS has reduced the social distancing guideline to three feet between individuals which, according to Dalton, helps deal with space constraints within some classrooms.
With the input of staff members, changes to this year’s prevention protocol will include an option to wear masks on an individual basis with few exceptions where the environment does not allow for it.
Choir periods and higher-populated classrooms may still be required to wear face coverings to prevent spreading the virus.
The plan outlines four “levels” or identifiers which will communicate how schools will operate while using data to make “real-time adjustments,” whereas the previous year may have experienced delayed action as frequent changes affected operations.
Level one would indicate a low rate of infection or transmission and would allow school activities to be “as normal as possible,” without requiring masks. Those choosing to use a face covering will be allowed to do so.
Level two improves upon the first with “extra cleaning and safety protocols,” while requiring masks in situations where physical distancing is not possible. There will be restrictions to visitor and volunteer access to campuses. This may be the level where the district will begin the school year, adjusting as needed.
Level three begins including distance learning in tandem with in-classroom instruction. At this level masks will be required for all individuals inside all buildings with the closing of building entrances, requiring visitors to seek pre-approval for access to the campuses.
Level four will send all students home and instruction will be through Google Classroom while staff will continue to report to work, unless told otherwise. Teachers will return to using electronic forms of communication with students and parents. Some accommodations can be made for students without internet access. All buildings will be closed.
The levels are chosen and implemented by the district considering data and guidance provided by the Douglas County Health Department.
The district administration may also take action to reduce exposure by denying some school activities, gatherings, or field trips on a case-by-case basis.
With lessons learned from the previous year the district will continue to use seating charts and other methods to aid contact tracing for those who test positive for the virus.
A triage protocol has been implemented under the new plan and will determine the course of action for students based on symptoms.
Individuals with fever exceeding 100 degrees will be dismissed from campus, not to return until the fever has passed for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.
Additional COVID-related symptoms may require additional restrictions, contact tracing and communication as required.
Families are encouraged to monitor health at home, not allowing individuals with a fever to enter any campus.
Parents should continue with contingent preparations for childcare should the district restrict or discontinue operations.
Issues such as increased student absenteeism (30- to 40-percent over two consecutive days), increased staff absences, new viral outbreaks, and orders from local, state, or federal authorities can prompt school closures.
According to the documents presented at the meeting, parents should ensure the district has up-to-date parent/guardian contact information should a student become ill and need to be taken from the campus.
According to Dalton the plan allows the district to remain flexible, but capable of acting when necessary to protect students and staff.
“We have to keep kids healthy and in school as much as possible,” said Mark Henry.
The board approved the document, “as presented,” with a 6-0 vote.
Additional details regarding the back-to-school plan can be found by visiting avabears.net and clicking “COVID-19 Information” in the left-hand column.
Not listed on the original agenda posted for the special meeting was a discussion on how staff pay and/or leave benefits could be affected this school year.
In a document originally published by the Missouri School Board’s Association, the Ava R-1 Board of Education mulled a possible motion on “COVID Leave” which would provide additional benefits to full-time employees who were unable to work because of isolation, quarantine, or infection caused by the virus.
The document also provided means of computing leave for part-time employees and part-time employees with varied hours.
Troy Tredway voiced concern regarding how the document’s wording affected those employees and with text which indicated that substitute teachers do not qualify for COVID leave.
Tredway spoke of employees who work part time at the district but may have additional job(s) elsewhere. In addition, he explained how many substitutes are also on the payroll of other area school districts.
Tredway questioned of the ability of these employees to continue working elsewhere should they contract the virus while working for the district, and how the district would react to such possibility.
Another concern included retention of qualified individuals to serve in Ava classrooms, ready and willing to “back” the district’s staff and teachers if needed.
After discussion the board was unable to resolve the concerns regarding non full-time staff and tabled the issue until more information could be gathered and considered for possible action.