Last week we released our return to school plans for the upcoming school year. The first day of school will be Tuesday, August 25. During the enrollment process, students will be able to choose between traditional-seated instruction or online virtual instruction. We have developed our own districtwide virtual format, known as STJ Virtual, which will be taught by St. James R-I teachers simultaneously with seated instruction. Our district leaders and teachers are presently working to develop virtual instruction, technology, and connection processes which will be communicated to all parents and students electing the virtual option. STJ Virtual is the preferred online format for the St. James R-I School District.
One of the main questions since the release of our plans has centered around how we are planning to screen students and staff each day. The St. James R-I School District will be following CDC recommendations concerning daily screenings of students and staff. We are prepared to implement a process for daily screening for symptoms of and exposure to COVID-19. Parents will be empowered to screen children for symptoms at home, prior to coming to school, and will be provided with a checklist that includes the following symptoms and exposure:
- Fever or chills
- Muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- New loss of taste or smell
- New runny nose or congestion
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Close contact with a person with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
This list is subject to change as new symptoms of COVID-19 are identified and St. James R-I Schools will be prepared to educate families regarding additional symptoms of concern. Parents should assess their children for fever. It is important to note, however, that temperature screenings are of low sensitivity and performing those checks in-person at school has the potential to create lines/groups of students. Students with symptoms should not attend school and parents should consult their healthcare provider and follow CDC considerations regarding their return to school. For students who are diagnosed with COVID-19, either by a laboratory test or based on their symptoms, return to school is permissible when the student is at least 10 days from symptom onset, has had three days with no fever and has improving symptoms. Return to school for children with an alternate diagnosis is at the discretion of their healthcare provider and/or the school nurse. Children with a known close contact with COVID-19 (or an adult with symptoms compatible with COVID-19) should stay home for 14 days from their last contact and until return to school is approved by the local health department in accordance with the CDC guidance. We will broadly communicate the importance of keeping students home when they feel sick. At-home screening reinforces that decision and reminds families how important that choice is, as it helps to further protect other students, school staff members, and our community as a whole. Performing a daily screening before a student arrives at school also reduces the likelihood that a student will have to be isolated at school and sent home after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
St. James R-I Schools is not presently planning on performing individual temperature checks of every student upon their arrival each morning. Children will be visually inspected for signs and symptoms of illness as they enter the school and/or classroom. If circumstances change and we feel it is necessary, we may elect to perform temperature screenings at school. If performed, we will ensure those procedures do not force bottlenecks at building entry points, creating unnecessary situations where students cannot maintain adequate physical distance from one another. The St. James R-I School District is presently applying for county CARES funds to acquire mass temperature scanners to help monitor student temperatures without creating bottlenecks as students enter the facilities.
Health data continues to reveal that adults are much more likely to spread the novel coronavirus than children, unlike other viruses (e.g. influenza) where children are more likely to transmit the virus to others. Therefore, school staff members will be expected to self-screen at home, following the same protocol listed above for families screening students at home. St. James R-I Schools will also screen staff members upon entry to the building each day, and that screening will include a temperature check.
For added precautionary reasons, we will be limiting visitors inside our facilities during the upcoming school year. We will identify options to conduct meetings with families remotely (conference call or videoconference) so parents can continue to engage with teachers (e.g. parent-teacher conferences and open houses) and participate in necessary discussions (e.g. Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 plan meetings; discipline conversations). If visitors are unable to join a remote meeting or conduct their business without entering the building, we will screen the visitor for COVID-19 by asking questions about symptoms and performing a temperature check, and then limit the visitor’s movement throughout our buildings. We are presently identifying designated visitor space/rooms at each school building so physical distancing measures can be enforced. A record of visitors inside our school facilities will also be kept, and it will include areas that were visited and the time the visitor entered and exited the building.
The St. James R-I School District will continue to update all “Return to School” plans as new updates are communicated by the CDC and our local health department. All information related to our return to school plans can be accessed on our school website at: https://stjschools.org/covid-19/