New Guidance from WDH on K-12 Investigations

OK…I’m gonna be honest and tell you that I have a lot going on right now.  I’m putting zero effort into trying to make this entertaining in any way, but some new guidance from the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) has been released and I want you to know about it right away.

The new guidance is for what the WDH calls Investigations: K-12.  You probably know it as contact tracing.  When a student or staff at school or in a school setting (think bus) tests positive for COVID-19, local officials have to determine who was a “close contact” of the person who tested positive.  They then issue isolation or quarantine orders to close contacts based on their findings and the WDH has changed some of their quarantine/isolation procedures.

For review, isolation occurs as a result of a positive COVID-19 test.  Quarantine is the result of someone being a close contact with a positive positive COVID-19 test.  A student or staff is considered a close contact when they are within 6 feet of the COVID-19 positive individual for 15 minutes or more

WDH has developed a very helpful graphic that shows whether a student or staff will be quarantined or isolated as the result of exposure, but I also wanted to walk you through each scenario in an effort to ensure everyone has a good understanding of how this will be implemented in our schools.

Scenario 1: When a masked student/staff tests positive and
close contacts were wearing masks.  When this occurred in the past, the student/staff with the positive test would be required to isolate and the close contact would be quarantined, even if both parties were wearing masks.  This will no longer be the case.  Now, if you are considered a close contact of a student/staff who tested positive and both individuals were wearing masks during the period of contact, the close contact will be able to remain at school while self-monitoring for symptoms.  This is an incredible incentive to wear masks at school and will reduce the amount of quarantine time for students and staff who do.

Scenario 2:  When an unmasked student/staff tests positive and close contacts were wearing masks.  In this case, the individual with the positive test will be required to isolate, and the close contacts, even though they were wearing a mask will be required to quarantine because the individual with the positive test result was not wearing a mask.

Scenario 3:  When a masked student/staff tests positive and SOME close contacts were wearing masks.   This scenario follows the rules from above.  Close contacts wearing masks would not be required to quarantine and those who were not wearing masks would be required to quarantine.

Scenario 4:  When an unmasked student/staff tests positive and close contacts were NOT wearing masks.  By now I’m sure you’ve got this down pat.  If nobody is wearing mask, individuals who test positive will have to isolate and all close contacts will be required to quarantine.

Some additional information related to the new guidance and the scenarios above:

Contacts who are asked to self-monitor should monitor themselves closely for
COVID-19 symptoms during the two weeks after exposure. If they develop symptoms,
they should stay home and contact a healthcare provider about testing for COVID-19. If
contacts who are self-monitoring develop symptoms but do not get tested, they should
remain home until at least 10 days after symptom onset

Students and staff who are currently under quarantine because of school exposures, and who were exposed in settings where both parties were wearing face coverings, may be released from quarantine (YES!)

K-12 students or staff who are close contacts due to exposure to a household member are required to quarantine.

So…the bottom line.  If you are wearing your mask at school you could prevent yourself from being quarantined.  If you are wearing a mask at school, you could prevent someone else from being quarantined.   That’s a win-win.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions.

 

 

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The Strength of a Nation

 

 

 

 

 

Our teachers are the strength of a nation right now.   #thankateacher

 

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Nip It in the Bud!

This morning I participated in the weekly Sublette County COVID Response Group Zoom meeting.  First, the good news.  There’s an insanely talented group of dedicated people in Sublette County working their tails off to provide a highly coordinated COVID response for our community.  They have been helpful beyond measure to SCSD 1 and I would like to thank all of them for their efforts.

Now the bad news.  Sublette County has reported 18 new cases in the last 11 days and there are more than 50 people in isolation or quarantine. The recent increase in cases has been designated as community spread by Dr. Fitzsimmons.  I’m sure there’s a more official definition for what that means, but for this average Joe it means this isn’t an isolated case that’s the result of someone bringing it from outside of Sublette County.joey bosa tech GIF  We are giving it to one another and despite ongoing efforts to contact trace the origin, they don’t know how some folks became infected, further increasing the risk of additional spread.

The one thing I’ve been told more often than anything else over the last six months it’s that our community wants our schools to be open.  Everyone wants that.  Our students, our parents, our staff, our Board.  EVERYONE!  For that to occur, we need your help. We need to nip this community spread in the bud.

I want to be absolutely clear with our community what could happen if we don’t.  If community spread continues at the current rate and our schools become further enveloped in that spread, we risk receiving health orders that would transition some of our schools from Tier I of our plan to Tier II.  This could include temporary closures of classrooms, portions of schools, or the schools themselves.  This could also include the cancellation of extracurricular events, including Homecoming.

It has been so great to have everyone back at school and to achieve some sense of normalcy.  So I am asking everyone in our community for your help.  PLEASE consider following the recommendations of the Sublette County COVID Response Group:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid close contact.
    • Inside your home:  Avoid close contact with people who are sickIf possible, maintain 6 feet between the person who is sick and other household members.
    • Outside your home: Put 6 feet of distance between yourself and people who don’t live in your household.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.  Everyone should wear a mask in public settings such as running essential errands, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Monitor your health daily and be alert for symptoms of COVID.

We have learned that keeping our schools open benefits more than just our students and their families.  It is essential for our community.   Thank you for any consideration you are willing to give regarding this issue and our efforts to keep our schools open.

 

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And the Optimist Said…

There’s an old joke that goes:

Pessimist:  Things can’t get any worse.

Optimist:  Oh yes they can!

That joke seems ridiculously relevant for 2020, and gallows humor given what lies ahead for SCSD 1.

I’ve done my best to try and bring a small degree of levity to how COVID-19 is impacting our schools through this blog and I will keep trying to find some humor in the process of working our way through a global pandemic, but things are definitely about to get worse and there’s nothing funny about the next crisis facing our district.

Through multiple avenues, school districts in Wyoming have been told to expect significant funding reductions.  If you follow Wyoming politics, you will not find this surprising, as the budgets for all manner of Wyoming departments and agencies are being reduced.   Over the last few years, Wyoming’s revenue sources have dropped sharply, with Wyoming projected to face a $1.5B revenue shortfall over the next two years.  In response, our Board Finance Committee has started the process of preparing for funding reduction scenarios of 10%-20%.  That’s roughly $1.7M-$3.4M.

Through this blog, I am hopeful that over the course of the next few months I can translate that dollar figure into something that can provide our employees and families with some context; something tangible and likely terrible but most importantly, understandable.

So what does a $1.7M reduction look like?  Personnel accounts for around 82% of our budget.  There’s just not enough supplies and equipment reduction to reach a number like that, although all reduction options will be on the table.

Reductions in personnel costs will have to occur.  This could include one or more of the following:  reduction of the workforce, wage reductions, benefits reductions, and furloughs. In a district our size, that translates to programmatic losses as well and that’s likely to include both academic programs and extracurricular activities.

I apologize for the seeming cruelty of dropping this in your lap without more details, but our district is just now beginning the process of planning for the funding reductions and the details simply don’t exist at this time.  My primary goals today are to 1) raise awareness regarding this issue for our stakeholders and 2) inform our stakeholders of the process going forward.

It is the intent of our Board Finance Committee to make a recommendation to the full board for a complete reduction plan sometime in March.  The Board Finance Committee is scheduled to meet monthly and to update our full board every other month in a work session.

It is my goal to provide regular posts on this blog to update our stakeholders on the process and inform everyone regarding opportunities for stakeholder input.  As funding for schools involves a complex formula, reductions can be subject to rules that are not often well known to the public.  I will also do my best to translate all of this information into real-world impact for our district.

As always, I am happy to speak or meet with anyone that has any questions, in person, over the phone, email, through comments on this blog or through our Let’s Talk platform.

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New Return to School Guidance for Symptomatic Students/Staff From Sublette County Health

Sublette County Health has issued new guidance to SCSD 1 school regarding the return to school of students/staff who are symptomatic.  Previously, students/staff who were symptomatic and sent home could return to school when symptoms were resolved, including fever-free for 24 hours without medication.

The new guidance states that students/staff who are symptomatic and have been sent home may return to school when symptoms were resolved, including fever-free for 72 hours without medication, or a negative test result for COVID-19.  This means that any students/staff sent home for COVID-19 symptoms will not be able to return to school sooner than 3 days unless they can demonstrate a negative COVID-19 test result.  We have updated our COVID-19 Exclusion Flowchart to reflect this change and you can find a copy here.

We know that as a result of this new guidance, many families will want to know how they can get a COVID-19 test for themselves or their student.  First, let’s start with some great news.  COVID-19 tests are now free of charge for all school-age children at both clinics.  Strep and influenza tests will also be free of charge.  

Now, let’s talk about how you can get your test scheduled:

The Sublette County Rural Health Care District is offering testing for COVID, Influenza, and Strep Monday through Friday in Pinedale from 8 AM – 12 PM, and in Marbleton from 1 pm – 5 pm.   Again, these tests will be free of charge for all children 18 years of age and under.

Appointments are necessary and will need to be made with the front desk at either clinic location and the clinic states that clear directions will be given as to where to go and how the testing will be completed.   You can use the phone numbers below to schedule your appointment.

Pinedale – 307-367-4133

Marbleton – 307-276-3306

The clinic says that results may take up to 24 hours, and clinic staff will call with results once complete or results can also be viewed on MyChart, their medical records system. If you need MyChart access they advise you to inquire with the front desk.   They also note that it may be possible that you will be required to see a provider depending on symptoms and test results.

If a student or staff member tests positive, public health will notify our school(s) directly.  Please be aware that they do not notify our schools of negative tests.  For a student to return to school sooner than 3 days with a negative test result, families will need to obtain a copy of the negative test result from the clinic or MyChart and provide a copy to our school nurse.

This guidance is effective 9/16/20.  SCSD 1 would like to thank Public Health, SCRHCD, and Sublette County for their coordination and efforts to make the testing free of charge.

As always, you ask questions in the comments section of my blog or through our Let’s Talk platform and I will answer them to the best of my ability.

 

 

 

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Who Says There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?  John Ruskin is often attributed to being one of the first to use this phrase.  He also said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”  Ol’ Johnboy has clearly never driven I-80 in winter (or September), so he obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about…so let’s move on to some free lunch!

The SCSD 1 food service program continues to change throughout the pandemic in an attempt to meet the needs of our students and families.  Some of the changes you might have noticed this year include the option for students to eat in the classroom, providing parents the option to pick-up meals, providing multiple meals at a time as needed and flexibility in meal patterns and food choices.

Recently, the USDA offered school districts some additional flexibility, similar to what we experienced last spring.  To make a long story short, there will be free lunch for all students enrolled in our district, either on campus or in our Classroom-Based Virtual Education (CBVE) format.  Not only will there be free lunch, there will also be free breakfast too!   

What do on-campus students need to do to get a free lunch or breakfast?  Simply let the teacher know they want a school lunch when we take meal counts and head to the cafeteria at lunch.  There is no form to fill out or other requirements for families.  The same is true for breakfast, although each building is handling breakfast a little differently.  Some buildings will be serving breakfast in the cafeteria and some are serving in the classroom.  Please contact your student’s school if you have questions about how breakfast will be served there.

Families with students enrolled in CBVE will be able to pick up both a breakfast and/or lunch via curbside pickup at Pinedale Elementary School between 10:00 and 10:30 am. each day, Monday-Friday.   To participate in the curbside pickup please sign up using this link for the Meal Pickup Form.  This is a one-time signup process to participate in the program.   If you do sign up for curbside pickup, we ask that you notify Jeryl Fluckiger jfluckiger@sub1.org or Jeane Covill jeanecovill@sub1.org if you would like to opt-out of receiving free meals for any period of time (a day, week, month or entirely).  Once you sign up to participate, meals will be available beginning the following week. 

Menus for the month can be found on the district food service menus page. Please understand that menus may change based on availability.

Currently, the USDA has extended this flexibility to the district through Dec. 31, 2020.  If this date gets extended, we will certainly notify our families.  The food service department is currently making preparations for this new service and to provide all enrolled students free meals. We plan to begin implementing the authorized changes on September 14th. 

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New COVID-19 Guidance from Wyoming Department of Health for Schools

If you follow my blog, you know that Crash Davis is shaking his head and telling me “I told you so.”

Anyway, with the positive test of a staff member at PMS over the weekend, I wanted to get you caught up on some new guidance from the Wyoming Department of Health that will guide some of our actions going forward.

We are doing our best to be transparent and make sure you get all of the source documents we reference that drive our practices.  To that end, the three documents below were released earlier this week.

  1. COVID-19 School Exclusion Flowchart
  2. COVID-19 Guidance for Educational Institutions from the Wyoming Department of Health
  3. COVID-19 Guidance for Educational Institutions from the Wyoming Department of Health:  What to Expect if a Student or Staff Member has COVID-19.

Another goal of mine is to help all of our families sort througim out GIF by Shark Tankh all of this information and make it as simple as possible.  If you’re not up for reading some WDH guidance documents at the moment, I’m here to help! There are some important changes, but for the most part, you will be familiar with the guidance.

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED

  1. Requirements to limit group sizes and requirements for social distancing and face coverings including on buses when social distancing cannot be achieved.
  2. The district is still required to send students who become ill at school home.  Students may return to school when symptoms have resolved for 24 hours, including fever-free, without medication.  The flowchart takes you through some specific scenarios.
  3. Students who are required to quarantine/isolate will be provided with an alternative learning environment (Classroom-Based Virtual Education).

WHAT HAS CHANGED

  1. If a student or staff member tests positive, they will be excluded for at least 10 days from the date when symptoms started through an isolation order from Public Health.  The previous guidance allowed students to return to school if they were symptom-free, including fever-free for 24 hours.  The new orders state:  24 hours fever free without medication AND symptoms improving AND isolation orders lifted.   This is a significant change.  Students who have tested positive will not be allowed to return to school until they can demonstrate to the school that the isolation orders have been lifted.  This will require A RELEASE FROM ISOLATION LETTER from Public Health.
  2. If a student or staff member is identified as a close contact to a lab-confirmed COVID-19 positive case, they will be excluded for 14 days from the last contact with the positive case through a quarantine order from Public Health.  It can take up to 14 days, after exposure, to develop symptoms of COVID-19.  That is why it is important to keep close contacts at home.
  3. The reporting requirements have changed significantly. Sublette Public Health will only notify the school principal and/or school nurse of a positive test.  The school district will not be notified of quarantine orders for close contacts.  If we are notified of a positive test, our building principal can immediately begin working with your student’s teachers to set up the distance learning option.  If your student receives quarantine orders because they were a close contact, you will have to notify the school so that we can start the process to set up distance learning.  Parents will be required to provide the School District with a copy of your quarantine/isolation orders. The sooner you notify the school, the sooner we can get the distance learning underway!

WHAT’S NEW

  1. The exclusion flowchart addresses a topic we haven’t discussed in great detail.  Students or staff who are identified as a close contact of a positive case will required to quarantine.  In this case, the student may not be symptomatic but was exposed to a positive case.   If this occurs, the student will be required to quarantine for 14 days from the last exposure to a positive case.  *A close contact is defined as “a person who was within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more, starting 2 days before the positive test or 2 days before the onset of symptoms”–see flowchart for complete definition.
  2. Public health will be sending a letter to all students in a school where a positive case for a student or staff member has occurred.  This is required of public health.  The intent of this letter is to alert you so that you may be extremely vigilant for your family member.  It does not prevent your student from attending school.

Many thanks to Janna Lee, the Sublette County Public Health Nurse Manager for helping me navigate all of the changes.

We’ll continue to do our best to keep you up to date with changes as they occur and to be clear about how they impact our practices.  As always, you can direct any questions you might have to the Let’s Talk tab on our website.

 

 

 

 

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Thank You to All SCSD 1 Students, Parents and Staff!

Well…it’s officially been a week.  Despite the never-ending list of challenges presented by COVID-19, we are open and operating.  And dare I say it, things have gone remarkably well.  I know what some of you are thinking.  Bruh…this is 2020, don’t jinx us!

As Crash Davis clearly noted, it’s important to respect the streak, but I think it’s more important to respect the collective effort given by our students, parents, and staff to reach this point.

There’s no part of our district that hasn’t been impacted in a significant way by this pandemic.  For staff, the change has been rapid and at times overwhelming in scale, but the response has been inspiring.  Instruction, activities, transportation, food service, technology, custodial and maintenance, administration, nursing, the business office…all of these teams and departments have had to make substantial change.  Ranging from small protocol changes to extra duties to completely new assignments, our staff have responded with amazing resilience and poise.  To all SCSD 1 staff, THANK YOU!

During times of significant change, organizations like ours that provide a public service often get hyper-focused on the changes we’re making (especially those we are required to make) and it can be all too easy to forget the impact to our stakeholders who are the beneficiaries of this service, and also making changes as a result.  To our students and parents, please know that I am acutely aware of the impacts on your lives and livelihoods resulting from the changes at SCSD 1.  This has not been easy on you and our district greatly appreciates your patience, flexibility, and support during this time.  To all SCSD 1 students and parents, THANK YOU!

Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Fitzsimmons, Janna Lee, and the members of the Sublette COVID-19 Response Group.  You have provided us with a sounding board for a wide range of issues and made many of our decisions and communications more informed.

There is no doubt in my mind that 2020 has more challenges in store for us.   During his press conference on August 26th, Governor Gordon asked all Wyoming school districts to reduce their budgets by 10%.  Despite this and everything that we have experienced since last spring, I cannot help but be encouraged by the manner in which our community is working together to find solutions to the issues we face.

PS.  Top three baseball movies of all time (change my mind).  Sorry Field of Dreams, I’m in need of laughs right now.

  • The Sandlot
  • Bull Durham
  • A League of Their Own

 

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COVID-19 Communication

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place”.  One of my goals this year is to eliminate any illusions related to our communication and to provide as much information to our families as possible.

I think, however, it’s important for our families to know that when it comes to providing information about COVID-19, not all communication that you would like to see is possible.  Our district is limited in what we will be able to communicate based on HIPPA regulations.

When we have a student or staff member test positive (and I believe that’s inevitable), we will communicate with our families in the following ways:

WHAT WE CAN COMMUNICATE

Based on HIPPA regulations, we will only communicate our positive cases on a building level basis.  For example, we would state “SCSD 1 is confirming a positive case at Pinedale High School.”

WHAT WE CAN’T OR WON’T COMMUNICATE

We can’t communicate names.   We aren’t going to be releasing gender, age, classroom, or student activity information either.  County Health may communicate some of this information, but because of the small size of our schools it could be possible to draw conclusions on a student or staff member’s identity based on this information and the intent of HIPAA is that this not occur.

HOW WE WILL COMMUNICATE

We will provide school-level information to our families through the following means:

  1. Direct email and text to families with students enrolled in SCSD 1 and to all SCSD 1 staff members.
  2. An email to the media.
  3. An announcement on our Facebook page (which also directly links to our district web page).

HOW WE WON’T COMMUNICATE

We will not be fielding individual calls or emails regarding positive cases in our schools.   Please don’t call our schools or the district office with questions regarding individual cases in your child’s school.  We will not be able to answer those questions for you.

I feel strongly that information should be released to our entire school community at the same time.  I will be working very hard to communicate this information to you as soon as possible after we receive it.  Communicating information individually promotes the potential for inaccuracy and unintended instances of misinformation.

PLEASE REFRAIN FROM SPECULATION

Winston Churchill about lies. | Words quotes, Churchill quotes ...

I would also respectfully request that everyone refrain from speculation regarding positive cases or those in quarantine.  Contracting COVID-19 and/or quarantining is stressful enough.  Simultaneously trying to provide or receive an education in these circumstances will be extremely challenging for those experiencing it.

Let’s do everything in our power to reduce stress for these folks rather than exasperating it.  Preventing a lie, even an unintended one, before the truth gets halfway around the world is something completely within our control and a small measure of grace we can easily extend within our school community.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Change to the Mask Requirements

Well…if there was one thing I think we should expect it’s that things are going to change throughout the year.  In a previous blog post, I told you that face shields were approved for use by our students.   We have learned that the guidance for one of the applications, face shields, has changed.

Face shields are now only approved for use in specific instances.  The first is for students when it’s required in a students Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The second is for staff when instructing whole groups and its important to see pronunciations (such as phonics).  Staff will still be required to use masks when they move to within six feet of students.

Cloth masks, single-use surgical masks and gaiters are still approved for use at this time.

 

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