School leaders hope for ‘a more normal year’

Going into new school year, some mitigation measures continued

Posted 8/17/21

Powell schools accomplished what few in the nation did last year: A full school year with in-person instruction. Going into this first day of school, on Tuesday, Aug. 24, Superintendent Jay Curtis is …

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School leaders hope for ‘a more normal year’

Going into new school year, some mitigation measures continued

Posted

Powell schools accomplished what few in the nation did last year: A full school year with in-person instruction. Going into this first day of school, on Tuesday, Aug. 24, Superintendent Jay Curtis is hopeful that Park County School District 1 can start classes “as close to normal as we can get in the buildings.”

“We’re looking forward to having a hopefully more normal year than last year starting under more normal conditions,” Curtis said.

The superintendent said educators are looking forward to having students back in classrooms.

“We are so excited to start this school year, excited to get kids back in the building, excited to get staff back in the building,” Curtis said in an Aug. 9 video. “The energy that that brings is palpable to the community. Nothing like Friday night sports, watching our kids play on the field and on the courts and in the water, watching them learn new things.”

Unlike last year, students and staff will not be required to wear masks as fall classes and sports begin.

“I want to say in very simple terms that we will not be requiring face coverings when we start the school year,” Curtis wrote in a letter to families and the community. “We do encourage face coverings for those that want them, and can provide face coverings to any that request them.”

Gov. Mark Gordon announced earlier this month that he would not issue a mask mandate for schools, but stressed local control as schools reopen.

“Wyoming was first in the nation in having a safe and successful in-person school year last year,” Gordon said in a statement. “My focus is on supporting local school boards as they take into account conditions in their community and work to assure students learn safely this year too.”

Superintendent Curtis said the Powell district “will be leaving that decision to personal choice of staff, families, and students that are old enough to make that decision for themselves. 

“I encourage all parents to have that discussion with your child prior to them coming to school on the first day,” he said.

Local schools will continue several mitigation measures similar to last year, he said. That includes hand washing and/or sanitation, social distancing to the degree it’s possible, cleaning under approved sanitation practices, and assisting health officials with contract tracing positive COVID-19 cases. 

“In short, we will be starting the year, pretty similar to the way we ended last year,” Curtis said.

However, the superintendent said the district is “bound by state health orders.” State and local health officials have raised alarm about the Delta variant, as COVID cases have risen significantly in recent weeks.

“We don’t exactly know where the state’s gonna land with this new Delta variant,” Curtis said.

Park 1 isn’t requiring employees to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus, but the superintendent estimated that about 55% of employees have been vaccinated. Then on top of that, some employees had COVID and have natural immunity.

“I am extremely confident that we will be able to keep our kids in school and keep operating,” Curtis said. “Maybe this is famous last words, but given the vaccine rate and natural immunity of people who have had COVID, I just can’t imagine that we’ll ever see a spike in the same way that we saw [last year].”

Families have the option for their students to attend school virtually. The district is launching the Park #1 Virtual Academy this school year, serving students in the Big Horn Basin.

“We’re extremely optimistic about that,” Curtis said.

The district’s goal is to have about 30 to 40 students enrolled in the virtual school, and the superintendent said they’re on pace to meet that goal.

While students can enroll throughout the school year, they won’t be able to bounce back and forth between the virtual school and in-person classes, Curtis said.

With the first day just around the corner, he said the district is excited to welcome students and staff, both virtually and in-person, to begin the new school year.

“With it will come new beginnings, new challenges, and new opportunities for learning and growth,” Curtis said. “This year, as all other years, we are truly fortunate to have buildings full of caring adults, ready to care for the hearts and minds of our most precious asset: our youth.”

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