PAYETTE - With the end of summer break drawing near, the Payette School District is gearing up for reopening albeit under a new normal imposed by conditions related to novel coronavirus COVID-19.

In a letter to students and parents dated July 29, Superintendent Robin Gilbert said the District’s plans for the start of the 2020-21 school year reflect a verified need for physical interaction.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advocates for local school districts to set the goal of having students physically present in school, noting the negative impact on children from school closures in the spring of 2020,” said Gilbert. “While no plan will eliminate all risks, Payette School District is working in coordination with officials from Southwest District Health Department, State Government and Payette Emergency Management to stay abreast of changes in levels of transmission as well as protocols and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Gilbert cited a parent survey regarding reopening of schools, which indicated 78-82% of those surveyed want to see kids physically present at school or using a blended learning model.

Leaning on official guidance

The District’s ‘Leveled School Operation Plan’ incorporates the Idaho State Board of Education’s ‘Green-Yellow-Red’ guidelines:

Green: Low/no spread, ‘new normal’

School buildings open with physical distancing and sanitation, students come to school for traditional instruction four days a week.

Students and visitors will be screened upon arrival, while employees self-screen. Parents are to check their students for symptoms before sending them to school. Traffic patterns, lunchroom seating and locker room use will see staggered schedules, signage will remind students to practice distancing and hygiene protocols and hand sanitizer will be available in all bathrooms, classrooms and hallways. Masks are recommended at this stage, but not mandatory. Students in quarantine would attend remotely.

All students would receive training on Canvas, the online learning platform in place for students in case circumstances change due to COVID-19.

A separate area for students to be sent home will be designated at each site. Transportation with assigned seating would be done as possible.

Yellow: Minimal to moderate community spread

School buildings open but with staggered use and physical distancing and sanitation. Attendance would be staggered, with K-8 students in person two days a week (Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, by group) and high school students learning remotely via Canvas and attending one day per week in groups of up to 100 students to receive support with assignments and the online platform. It would be possible for classes to have to remain together, including eating lunch together in the classroom or outside.

Increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces like door knobs and counters will take place, deep cleanings take place on weekends and masks become required for all students and staff. No visitors would be allowed. 

Students riding buses to school would need a mask if distancing is not possible.

Red: Substantial community spread

Targeted, short-term or extended building closure. All students would attend school virtually with assignment completion and a minimum of four hours’ attendance logged on each day expected. 

Short-term closures would allow for disinfecting isolated areas and deep cleaning over a period of up to 48 hours. Extended closures would lean on guidance from local or state health officials. Areas to not be used would be blocked off, and staff members present on campus would be required not to leave their assigned areas except through scheduled use of common areas like copy machines. 

Larger facilities may be used for in-person support, where appropriate, but no busing would be available as buses would be used to deliver meals and learning materials instead. Meals and materials would also be available at designated pick-up sites.

In all cases, student attendance is mandatory and tracked whether in-person or online and meals would be available for students staying home for pick-up.

Gilbert said that while the Board of Trustees has approved this plan, they have not determined yet which category the District would be in for the first day of school.

“We will post the category level of school opening on or before August 12,” said Gilbert.

Attendance protocols

The plan calls for sending students and staff members experiencing COVID-19 symptoms home, or denying them entry to buildings:

• The plan calls for these individuals to stay home for at least 10 days after symptoms first appear and until fever and symptoms subside for 24 hours without medication.

• Household members would also need to stay home for 14 days after last exposure.

• Those who have traveled or has had close contact with a confirmed case must stay home for 14 days, even if they have proof they tested negative.

Regardless of what category the district starts the school year in, Gilbert said her focus remains on positive outcomes for all involved.

“Thank you for your feedback and support as we move into a truly new school year,” said Gilbert. “Please feel free to contact myself directly or the building administrators for answers to your questions.”

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