Masks ‘recommended’ but not mandatory
The Park Hill School District heralds a new change in its mask policy beginning Jan. 4.
After almost six months of enforcing mask-wearing, the district will no longer require students and staff to wear masks inside its buildings. School officials indicate the change comes because students and staff have had the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
When second semester resumes on Tuesday, Jan. 4, the district will “strongly encourage” people to wear face masks inside their buildings but will not enforce mask-wearing. Students riding the school bus must continue to mask up pursuant to the federal requirement effective through March 18, 2021.
First Student, the Park Hill School District’s transportation provider, plans to notify parents about potential changes to their child’s bus route to alleviate overcrowding on a number of buses.
That is not to say there aren’t many car riders. Parents who drive their children to school and wait in drop-off/pick-up line that snake through the parking lot multiple times may be surprised to hear that some buses are overcrowded, since hundreds of parents at many schools transport their children to school each day.
As for contact tracing, the Kansas City Health Department and the Platte County Health Department will take the lead on all contact tracing duties when a new positive case of COVID-19 turns up in schools. For more than 17 months, the district has taken on all contact tracing duties for the communicable disease.
Back in August of 2020, Tammy Saylor, coordinator of health services in the Park Hill School District, said the health department would normally be the ones to do all the contact tracing of a communicable disease. But the backlog of COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic stretched the health department too thin. This forced school districts to take the lead and contact families when a student or employee may have been exposed to COVID-19.
When school resumes after the holiday break, the school district’s communication taskforce, assigned to placing calls and sending out letters of communication, will continue to let families know if a student or staff member in their school tests positive for COVID-19. But the health department will be the agency to let families know if their child was in direct contact at school with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or someone whose medical provider diagnosed the child with a presumed case of COVID-19 and needs to quarantine.
While the district will continue to provide weekly data about COVID-19 cases on its interactive COVID dashboard, the district will discontinue tracking quarantines. If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID, the district will still require them to stay home for 10 days either from the date of the positive test or on the first day their COVID-19 symptoms appeared.
When the second semester rolls around, the district will start allowing some volunteers to visit the schools. Parents should contact their child’s teacher if they are interested in available volunteer opportunities, including guest speaking and assisting in after-school activities.
Still, some visits will not be permitted. The district says parents will not be allowed to visit their child in the cafeteria at lunchtime, which was a popular occurrence before the pandemic.
All of these changes come during a month when the number of new positive cases has reached the highest level this school year. According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, 118 students or staff tested positive for COVID the first week of December, 67 students and staff tested positive Dec. 6-12, and 62 tested positive leading up to the 12-day winter break.