COVID-19: School board convenes for special meeting

Members of the community attended and asked clarifying questions as needed at last Wednesday night's special meeting.

Last Wednesday night, on Sept. 8, the Kemmerer School Board met to review an addendum to the district’s COVID-19 policy, which was per Superintendent Theresa Chaulk’s request. The meeting had originally been planned for the previous day, Tuesday, but had to be rescheduled due to scheduling conflicts with board members.

At the meeting, the sole item on the agenda was close contact protocols. After the meeting had formally begun, Chaulk wasted no time:

“The only reason we’re here today is to talk about close contact. We’re all in agreement if you’re a positive case you can’t come to school. But the close contact [is something] we’re really struggling with because we’re not getting any support from any outside entity besides pressure to keep them [the students] at home. I think for me it’s my duty, my obligation, my responsibility, to notify you if your child’s been in close contact, so you can make an informed decision.”

But other COVID-19 related topics crept into the discussion, first beginning with mask-wearing on buses and the ramifications for other bus passengers if a case of COVID-19 were to be found. This concern was especially underscored for the athletic teams. However, coaches were reportedly reluctant to enforce any kind of mask-wearing for their teams, despite the risks of potentially sidelining their team with a positive case.

“Because, if I’m a coach and we’re two weeks away from the state tournament, I don’t want to take any chances on losing half my team and not going to the state tournament,” said principal Shawn Rogers,

Despite the back-and-forth discussion, it appeared that it would be down to individual teams to make their own decisions as far as masking up went. This discussion also further highlighted the school district’s ongoing bus driver shortage, as a potential measure for mitigating potential COVID-19 exposure among athletic teams would have been to take two buses.

“So we just don’t have enough drivers to do any separation on the buses…we can’t send two buses to try and separate them [the teams],” Chaulk said.

Despite the amount of discussion taking place about the issue, it appeared that it would ultimately be up to individual teams to make the decision to collectively mask up or not.

Another tangent that crept into the discussion were concerns over mask bullying. However, members of the school board were skeptical about the amount of mask bullying going on and were curious about how many students had been masking up.

Chaulk attested to seeing a fair number of students wearing masks during her lunch in Canyon Elementary that day. However, few students, if any, were observed wearing masks in the high school auditorium during their Distracted Driving program, held earlier in the day.

Speaking about other developments in response to COVID-19, Chaulk also mentioned that they will be reinstalling their cross-shaped plexiglass dividers. The dividers, which are a height of six feet, are aimed at minimizing close contact exposure between students. Each divider can accommodate up to four students, depending on the classroom’s needs.

“Our numbers still have not been high…today, our total count out due to close contact or quarantine was 34, and we’ve had 17 positive cases in school; 9 at the high school and 8 at Canyon Elementary,” Chaulk reported to the board.

Overall though, the underlying sentiment of the school board at the meeting was to keep their students in school. The discussion then moved to the subject of COVID-19 testing on campus, with Chaulk reporting that the district had about 110 tests with the capability to order more.

However, she specified that they weren’t allowed to administer them to students unless a parent requested it in writing, noting that permission could come in many different forms, such as a text, an email, and so on.

“So if you do want to test, you just need to call or email the school nurse, Annie Wagner,” Chaulk added.

Chaulk also explained that the tests had originated from Public Health at no cost to the district, and that they would keep a steady supply so long as they were able to order them.

Once the topic had moved to on-site testing, two parents spoke up, inquiring about the process and if there would be any cost. Chaulk confirmed that there would be no cost. However, board members appeared to chafe at the notion of at-will testing being conducted on campus for students, preferring to stick with the written request system that was already in place.

By the end of the meeting, the statement to be sent home  had been approved, with amendments. The subject of online schooling also came up at the very end of the meeting, with Chaulk stating that it would be an addition to the agenda for next week’s meeting.

After the meeting had concluded, Chaulk further elaborated on the meeting’s purpose to the Gazette:

“We’ve had other meetings on COVID-19, and we were given the directive that it is 100% local control. So we just immediately started following Wyoming Public Health and CDC guidelines, which are, it’s not an option, if you’re close contact, you have to quarantine. But like we said tonight, no one’s enforcing that, and it’s a recommendation, not a requirement. So I wanted board action to support that we’re going to let you come to school if you’re a close contact with a mask on.”

She also explained that the decision to require individuals who had been in close contact with a confirmed case to quarantine was not the initial protocol for the district at the beginning of the school year.

“We were just saying it was your choice as a parent to keep your child at home or talk to your provider to see if you need quarantine,” she added.

Chaulk further talked about her own philosophy and role in all of this, emphasizing that she didn’t want to lose her students (to COVID-19 or fears of COVID-19), wanting them to still have their teachers with the same curriculum.

“We’re just trying to do what’s best to keep kids in school and safe. We’ll monitor the close contacts that wear a mask that become infected. And if the numbers go up, then we’ll have another meeting. Because we want our kids to be safe in school,” she said.

When asked about how things would change if there was a surge in COVID-19 cases, Chaulk was optimistic, saying that there would have to be between 25-35% of the student body out due to COVID-19 cases or quarantines before they would review their options for going more remote. She also elaborated on her rationale for this figure, saying that it was a state statute that a district have at least 50% of its students in attendance for it to count as a school day.

“I just hope that the community will come together and know that we’re all trying to do what’s best for our students and our staff, and our goal’s to keep kids in school and educate them, because that’s where we want them,” Chaulk said.

While this special meeting only reviewed an addendum to the school district’s COVID-19 policy, their next regular meeting will take place next Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. There, a plethora of other agenda items will be reviewed and discussed. As always, members of the community are invited to attend and share their thoughts in a civil manner.

The approved document’s full text has been included below:

“As a courtesy to public health, Lincoln County School District #1 is calling to inform you that your student was in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive case. School district practice recommends you follow the guidance of your health care professional and Wyoming Department of Public Health.

This guidance is available on our website. As a school district, we respect the autonomy of individuals and recognize we do not have the legal authority to enforce quarantine on an individual not displaying symptoms and recognize there is no current mandate in Wyoming nor are any recommendations by public health being enforced.

Out of courtesy for others if you send your student to school after a close contact we do require they wear a mask for 10 days after exposure or vaccinated individuals may test after 3 to 5 days and stop wearing a mask and non-vaccinated close contacts may test negative after 5 days and stop wearing a mask on day 8.

If your child does develop symptoms after exposure please do not send them to school; they will be sent home.”

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