TORRINGTON – The Goshen County School District board met for a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the Smart Start Plan. A work session took place to determine if the board should look into new protocols regarding mask mandates and adjusting the Smart Start Plan.
The discussion did not include any action items so the board will hold another special meeting on Sept. 2 in the Torrington High School Auditorium to allow the public a chance to weigh in before decisions are made.
The board created a tentative agenda for the special meeting with the following action items according to Superintendent Ryan Kramer: 1. Proposed revisions to the Smart Start Plan 2. District movement from Tier 1A to Tier 1B of the Smart Start Plan 3. Implementing face coverings for students K-8 in correlation with the Wyoming Department of Health and Goshen County Public Health weekly statistics 4. Medical exemptions regarding face coverings 5. Religious exemptions regarding face coverings.
The board had one action item before the work session which was to approve Cory Grant and Amy Schmick as teachers.
The board members then moved to tables in the center of the room which were in a circle to allow for a more conversational atmosphere.
Vice-Chairman Zach Miller, who is also the Chief Executive Officer at Banner Health-Torrington Community Hospital, presented the rest of the members with slides of current state and county COVID-19 data.
Miller said the Delta variant is much more contagious and has similar transmission rates to chicken pox.
“It is two to three times more contagious,” Miller said.
According to Miller, the biggest concern is the emergency room is seeing pediatric patients for the first time in the pandemic. The issue highlights the main concern to protect the students.
“I am concerned about kid’s health, because we are seeing ER kids in the last week and we didn’t see them last fall,” Miller said.
One issue brought up by board members was COVID test accuracy. Trustee Dylan Hager asked Miller how much more accurate the hospital tests were compared to one which can be taken at home. Miller said at-home tests vary based on how the individual takes it and outside ways it could be compromised.
“It’s not necessarily that the test itself is inaccurate, it’s because of how people administer it,” Miller said.
The board also addressed a recent issue of a COVID scare with the Torrington High School football team.
Superintendent Kramer said the student took a rapid antigen test which came back negative and a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test which was positive. He was advised by a county official to have the student take a third test and it came back negative. The result was to go with the two negative outcomes. Kramer said this was the first time he had ever seen a case like this and the first time he had ever heard of taking a third test.
Kramer also informed the board on quarantine and positive case updates during the first week of school.
“We had 57 students in quarantine today,” Kramer said.
As of Friday, there are currently 13 active cases in the district. Seven of which are students. According to Kramer, the absentee rate is at 4.71% just for students who are ill.
The board discussed the current quarantine protocol, and Trustee Hager suggested a written guideline on procedures and signifying who is in charge of enforcing it. Kramer said most people are following the rules, but the few who are not create major problems for the safety of the school district.
“I cannot sit here and say I am providing a safe environment for kids right now, because there are too many variables out there,” Kramer said.
Kramer also informed the board on the current strategy to find close contacts of students who test positive by sharing seating charts and sometimes footage from lunch with county health officials to determine who may be at risk.
The board also discussed enforcing a mask mandate since cases are rising again in the county. Trustee Michael Sussex said only having a mask mandate at school does not help when students do not have wear them anywhere else.
Without a mandate from the county or state level, some board members feel it is harder to tell students and parents to do it at school. Trustee Katherine Patrick said everyone has a responsibility to do what is right to keep themselves and everyone
Trustee Hager said he and the board should not be able to enforce anything on people because they are not experts.
“We don’t make that decision because we are not qualified to,” Hager said.
Trustee Carlos Saucedo said the board must do what they can to keep kids safe while they are in school. Trustee Miller added they had a fiduciary responsibility to create a safe workplace and learning environment.
The board discussed possibilities of when a mask mandate would be needed. In terms of the color-coded chart created by the Wyoming Department of Health of county cases per 100,000, the board contemplated enforcing masks at either the orange level or red level. Orange represents 101-201 cases per 100,000, while red is 202-999.
Goshen County went from orange to red in the last two weeks. If a mask mandate is agreed upon, then the level will also be decided at the next meeting.
The mask mandate proposal is also aimed to be required for K-8 and highly recommended for high schoolers, while all district staff will also be required to mask. Trustee Hager said this could cause issues if high school teachers have to wear masks, but their students do not.
“It isn’t the best work environment,” Hager said.
The board will also plan to amend parts of the Safe Start Plan including universal temperature checks for tier 1B and move the status from 1A to 1B. The board will also look into adding a requirement for potentially sick students to wear a mask when going to the nurse’s office. This was a requirement last year and could be implemented once again.
There was also discussion on mask exemptions for medical and religious reasons if a mask mandate is put into place. Last year students could receive a medial exemption if it was approved by a medical professional such as a doctor or guidance counselor. In terms of religious exemptions, the district did not have an exemption policy for masks but did for vaccinations which was just a form with a signature from a state health official. Some board members questioned who would be qualified to determine whether the religious exemption request is valid or not.
The board adjourned and set the special meeting for a week later to allow the public enough time to listen and talk with them before any decisions are made.