Schools reopen in Powell

‘Changing almost everything that we’ve ever done’

Posted 8/27/20

After schools abruptly closed across the country in March, many have wondered what it would look like for students to return. On Tuesday, Powell schools found out.

“There’s just a lot …

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Schools reopen in Powell

‘Changing almost everything that we’ve ever done’

Posted

After schools abruptly closed across the country in March, many have wondered what it would look like for students to return. On Tuesday, Powell schools found out.

“There’s just a lot of work that went into changing almost everything that we’ve ever done, so that we could get kids in the building,” said Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis.

From face coverings to temperature scans to social distancing, the district has adopted a variety of new measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As schools welcomed students Tuesday morning, it “went really smoothly,” Curtis said.

“Just walking through the buildings, the energy was so good,” he told the school board Tuesday night. “It was so pleasant to see kids’ faces back in our buildings.”

Schools have a good plan, Curtis said, but it will take time to get all the details worked out.

As schools adapt to new lunchtime guidelines, “we have quite a bit to learn on lunch in almost every building,” he said. To keep numbers lower in cafeterias for social distancing, some students are eating in the gymnasiums.

“It’s just different at every building,” Curtis said. “The facilities are a little different, the population is a little different, but everyone is learning.”

The bus route schedule also will need a little bit of work, the superintendent said. Normally, there’s a bus exchange at Powell High School to cut down on the number of buses that go to each elementary school.

“To promote social distancing and lessen the spread [of COVID-19], we had to completely erase everything that we’ve ever done, and have kids not change buses,” Curtis said. “So, every bus goes to every school.”

He said the first couple of days of school are always funky with busing, but this year that’s especially true with all the changes.

“We’ll work the bugs out of that, and if anyone can work the bugs out, it’s gonna be Steve Janes,” Curtis said, referring to the district’s transportation supervisor. “And he’ll do it with a smile on his face.”

The superintendent commended all of the employees who had a hand in helping schools reopen.

“Certainly the work that has gone into arriving at this day and getting our kids in safely and without incident has been monumental,” he said.

Curtis said he expected there would be more issues with the face coverings, but as he walked through the three elementary schools Tuesday, he only saw one case where a mask wasn’t being worn — an adult had bent down to help a child and their face mask had accidentally fallen. The staffer quickly put it back on, he said.

“It just worked really well. The high school kids were really good about wearing face coverings, the middle school kids were really good,” Curtis said. “I think that everyone has recognized that it’s just something that we have to do to be in school.”

The district’s mantra going into this unusual year has been: “The goal is to get kids in school and keep them in school.”

Park 1 is looking at starting COVID-19 surveillance tests for employees.

“The surveillance testing is just a way to get good data,” Curtis said. “You can detect the presence of COVID in your schools.”

About 20% of the staff would be tested every two weeks, he said, “and it’s a way to identify asymptomatic carriers in a school.”

The state is offering a testing program that Park 1 may choose to join — as long as it doesn’t cost the district any money and if local leaders can opt out at any time, Curtis said.

The district also is working with Powell Valley Healthcare to pay for COVID tests for employees who may be exposed to the new coronavirus at school, Curtis said.

On Tuesday, the board also discussed a metric for reopening schools and the number of COVID cases that could prompt a school to close, or utilize a hybrid model. During the board’s Sept. 8 meeting, trustees are slated to consider adding the metric to the district’s reopening plan.

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