Adapting to the realities of the various health precautions related to COVID have changed the focus for all school leaders this summer. School districts across the United States are presently working diligently to communicate safe and appropriate “return to school” plans. At St. James R-I Schools, we continue to lean on the Phelps/Maries County Health Department and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for guidance for our return. DESE and the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) recently released helpful guidance for Missouri school districts to consider as we prepare to reopen our schools next month. This guidance was designed to give districts additional clarity and consistency for school leaders and public health officials as we make decisions about school reopening strategies at the local level. There are no statewide health mandates related to K-12 school reopening being issued at this time, and it is important to note that local school boards and local jurisdictions have the authority to implement more stringent or less restrictive preventative measures than those listed in the guidance information.
Across the country, the majority of health officials, educators and families seem to agree: they want to reopen schools this fall, but in a way that continues to protect public health. While closing school buildings in March was necessary, there are a number of serious consequences that can come from our students not attending school in-person. These implications are being considered along with the continued risk of COVID-19. Therefore, St. James R-I leadership and the county health officials are working thoughtfully to reopen our schools – knowing that school operations must take place differently to better protect public health and combat the spread of the virus.
The guidance provided by DESE will help us develop and implement proactive strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and best protect St. James R-I students, staff members and our community. These provisions include recommended protocols regarding screening, physical distancing and face coverings. DHSS and DESE leaders are working alongside a group of Missouri’s top pediatric infectious disease doctors to quickly answer additional questions about reactive strategies and procedures for K-12 schools. Those procedures that continue to be discussed include: how to isolate symptomatic students or staff members when they are at school, how to handle positive cases of COVID-19 and how to best be prepared to assist local health officials with contact tracing efforts. DESE will be communicating all important procedural updates once they have been thoroughly vetted by all participating professionals.
The finishing touches to the St. James R-I School District “Return to School” plan are presently being finalized and will be ready for public view very soon. Guidance from the Phelps/Maries County Health Department and DESE…along with feedback from the Parent Survey were the contributing factors throughout the development phase of our reopening plan. Stay tuned in the coming days/weeks as this plan is released and updated on our district website and social media accounts.