CHEYENNE — Lunch in classrooms, widespread hand sanitizer stations and face coverings are just a few of the features Wyoming students can expect to see if the state’s schools return to in-person instruction this fall.
The Wyoming Department of Education’s initial framework to reopen K-12 schools, which was released Wednesday afternoon, requires districts to prepare for three possibilities: fully open facilities, fully closed facilities and a hybrid model somewhere in between.
If buildings are open to students, procedures for social distancing and face coverings will be followed “to the greatest extent possible,” the plan states.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said much of the decision-making outlined in the plan, developed by health and education experts across the state, will be left to local communities.
“Health officials, school boards, educators, parents and students will make informed decisions in the coming weeks,” Balow said. “Communities know best how to address your own unique challenges.”
Statewide, school districts have been asked to submit a plan to the education department by Aug. 3 that accounts for all three potential scenarios, with a focus on four areas: communication, safety and wellness, school operations, and instruction and technology.
The guidance released Wednesday largely includes recommendations for district administrators to consider in their plans, though it does entail a few across-the-board requirements for each scenario.
For example, if they reopen, schools must have a plan for students to safely enter and exit the building, “whether limiting the number of entrances open or requiring specific groups to use specific entrances.” Parents would also be expected to screen their children daily for COVID-19 before allowing them to attend school.
The recommendations, while not yet official procedure, provide further insight into what school could look like this fall. Under the nutrition guidance, one recommendation is to “serve students in their classrooms/pods/designated areas, rather than in cafeterias or common areas” and “provide water sources other than water fountains.”
The plan also included a framework for if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. The person testing positive would enter into self-isolation, and “other students and staff members who came into close contact with the positive case will be quarantined for 14 days, or as otherwise directed,” the plan states.
“Schools or buildings could also be closed by state or local public health directive or order for a 2- to 5-day period (or longer, if conditions warrant) to sanitize the facility and to conduct an investigation,” the plan reads.
Students who are more at risk of contracting the virus, or who live with someone who is, will be eligible to receive remote education, according to the framework.
Following the closure of school buildings across Wyoming this spring to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Balow acknowledged the loss of in-person instruction will be an issue to grapple with “for years to come, especially in the area of early literacy.”
“I would anticipate that in the coming months, we in Wyoming ... will double-down on our focus on brain-reading instructions, so that our youngest learners can get the interventions they need to make up for the lost time,” Balow said.