By Heather Graves
SEYMOUR – The Seymour school board voted July 26 to continue its policy on optional masks for all students and staff for the 2021-22 school year.
The decision was part of the approval of the district’s reopening plan presented by Superintendent Laurie Asher.
“We want to try and keep kids in school – that is what these mitigation strategies are,” Asher said. “But, we also don’t want kids coming to school sick and getting other kids sick, and then they have to go out.”
Asher said the district is likely to see positive COVID-19 cases this school year but said the district will do its best to try and mitigate cases as much as possible.
“We are going to try to limit that,” she said. “Because the more COVID cases we get, the more kids and staff we will have that are not going to be able to stay in school. It is really a balancing act right now.”
Some board members raised concerns for students not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We still have families that are concerned…,” Board Member Jill Karweick said. “What options do families have that are concerned with this? I’m worried about those 12 and under.”
Asher said the district is not offering a virtual option, so the only option would be to mask their children.
“That is really, as far as attending school, the only option right now,” Asher said. “There are no other options, choices for families. Their choice is to mask their own child. And that is one of the challenges of where we are – there is more choice one way, but less choice the other way. We do have children with high medical needs, and that will be a choice families will need to make – if they send their child to school or not, if they decide to homeschool them or go to another district.”
Board Member Mike Cottrell said it is time for the district to look toward a future without COVID-19.
“Are we going to spend the rest of our lives running from the shadows of COVID?” Cottrell said. “Because we are not going to eliminate it. We never had these kinds of issues with the flu or anything else, and right now it is to the point where this is no worse than the flu. I have a better chance of dying from the flu than this. But I understand that you have people you need to answer to, too.”
The approved plan takes a less restrictive approach to quarantine than what was in place last school year.
If symptoms of COVID-19 arise while at school, students and staff will be sent home.
Asher said individuals will not be required to quarantine, but instead can return to school when they are symptom-free for 24 hours.
“If they have a cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell or a fever they will be sent home,” she said. “Or if they have two of the other (COVID-19) symptoms like nausea, headache, those types of things – they would have to have two of those – they would be sent home, but would not be quarantined. Last year, we quarantined them for 14 days. This year, they will not be quarantined. They just can’t return back to school until they are symptom-free.”
If students and staff are tested and receive a negative result, they will be permitted to return.
However, Asher said the district will not require testing as a prerequisite for return – rather the absence of symptoms will be the deciding factor.
“If a parent wants to test (their child) to prove it’s not COVID, they can come back,” she said. “But we are not requiring any testing and we are not requiring any quarantining.”
Asher said all schools will again begin at 7:55 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m, and the district will return to one morning bus route and one afternoon bus route.
At this point, she said because the district adopted an optional mask policy, masks will also be optional on buses.
“What we were told by our bus contractor, Kobussen, was that if we were not going to require them in school, then they were not going to require them,” she said. “We asked them, ‘Are you public transportation?’ And they said, ‘Yes,’ but said ‘We will do what you do.’ Last school year, Kobussen did not require them when we didn’t. So we will update you on that one when we know more.”
The board asked Asher to confirm those details prior to the start of the school year.
A call to Kobussen for comment on this story was not returned.
The plan also includes:
• Recommendations on avoiding large gatherings or dense crowds.
• Promoting hand washing/sanitizing and covering coughs/sneezes.
• Continuing routine cleaning and disinfection of common surfaces.
• Field trips will follow guidelines in place prior to last school year.
• Athletics will follow WIAA rules and regulations. There will be no limit for attendance at sporting, athletic or other events held on district grounds.
• Band/choir will continue to use covers for band instruments and follow social distancing strategies for classes. Concerts will be held.