Blair Community Schools is planning to start the 2021-22 school year “as normal as possible,” according to Supt. Randy Gilson. That includes making masks optional when students return to class Aug. 18.
The BCS Board of Education approved the back-to-school reopening plan Monday during a special meeting at the Blair Public Library and Technology Center.
The plan was finalized after the district received feedback through a survey of parents, students, teachers, staff and community members. Of the 215 responses, 87.6% supported the plan as it was written.
While the plan is complete, Gilson reminded board members and the public that it remains “fluid.”
“It's always fluid. Anything significant we'll go back to a board meeting or a special board meeting before we make any major change,” he said. “I think the plan gives us enough flexibility to make subtle changes.”
Changes were made to several sections in plan, including new guidance from the Three Rivers Public Health Department.
If one COVID-19 case is confirmed in a classroom, students who are close contacts will not automatically have to quarantine. Instead, they'll self-monitor for 14 days.
If two confirmed cases are identified, those who are unvaccinated will be asked to self-monitor, wear a mask and physically distance.
If more than two cases are suspected, the district will contact the health department. Students and staff who are close contacts and unvaccinated will be asked to self-monitor at home for 14 days. Vaccinated contacts, those who have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days or those who were masked will be asked to self-monitor but can stay in the classroom.
If there are multiple cases of COVID-19 in the same classroom and the health department cannot determine the cause of the case then non-pharmaceutical interventions, including cohorting, use of cloth face coverings and enhanced screening, will be required.
Cohorting, or keeping groups of students together, is not included in the district's back-to-school plan, but Gilson emphasized the health department could require it if necessary.
“We will work with the health department on a case by case basis,” Gilson said.
Gilson said his decision to make masks optional was based on summer activities, which have seen no COVID cases.
Board member Ginger Fredericksen said the district she works for has seen similar results during summer school from mid June through the end of July.
“Over 700 kids are attending summer session and we have not had any cases and we've been unmasked,” she said.
The district won't offer remote learning this school year. However, principals, special education directors and teacher can make accommodations.
“If there is a situation where there's even half of a class that may be in the students' and the teacher's best interest if they Zoom or at least record it so the students could watch online,” board president Kari Loseke said. “I agree I don't think we want to make it an every day job for the teachers to have to do, but in some cases I think it could be beneficial to them.”
The district will not require COVID-19 vaccination records, which had previously been considered.
“There's really not a need for it so we're not going to collect them,” Gilson said.
The only question remaining is transportation and mask requirements on buses.
“We still don't have clear direction if it's required or not,” Gilson said. “We're taking the position that we're not going to require it, but there's still the debate.”
Gilson said it's not clear if there is a federal mandate imposing mask requirements on school buses.
“That would be the only curveball — it would be a major curveball — but that would be the required mask area right now that we could see possibly being an issue,” he said.