School board votes on county health department reopening guidelines

The board rejected the department's criteria for extracurricular activities but approved its regulations for school attendance models

Superintendent+Frank+Harwood+speaks+to+students+during+a+2018+interview.+At+tonight%27s+board+meeting%2C+Harwood+introduced+county+health+department+guidelines+for+school+reopening.

By Hannah Chern

Superintendent Frank Harwood speaks to students during a 2018 interview. At tonight's board meeting, Harwood introduced county health department guidelines for school reopening.

Ben Wieland, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

The school board adopted the health department’s guiding criteria for school attendance models but rejected its recommendations for extracurricular activities at a meeting Monday, Aug. 3. The board also approved a new calendar for the school year.

The board actively debated the health department’s recommendations on extracurricular activities, ultimately voting down the guidelines 2-5. Board members pushed back against the proposed gating criteria, which would prevent the district from playing a list of sports and activities deemed high-risk due to levels of athlete contact (football, lacrosse, cheer, volleyball, wrestling, band and choir) when in the hybrid model and prevent any in-person sports or activities from taking place in the remote model. 

Board member Rick Amos advocated for the criteria to be relaxed so these activities could take place. Amos cited the responsibility of coaches in managing sports this summer after a student on the football team contracted COVID and athletes on the team were forced to quarantine.

On the other side of the argument, board member Danielle Heikes fought against the relaxation of guidelines for these activities, believing that there was no good reason to ignore or modify the county’s criteria. 

“I cannot go home and sleep at night with this decision,” Heikes said. “We begged the state health department to develop these gating criteria, and to not make these decisions as a district would be irresponsible.”

The board ultimately rejected all county health guidelines for extracurricular activities, but district activities remain governed by KSHSAA regulations. KSHSAA has not released any health criteria for reopening high school sports and activities, but has proposed safety recommendations.

A chart displayed onscreen by superintendent Frank Harwood during the district’s board meeting. (By USD 232)

Superintendent Frank Harwood also introduced criteria to determine whether the district will reopen fully in-person, with a hybrid model or fully online. Every four weeks, the district will use these criteria to reevaluate which model the district will use. A chart displaying these standards is embedded here. The district made a few important changes to this chart: at Harwood’s recommendation, they determined that in all cases, elementary schools would follow the recommendations for middle and high schools. It also rejected the health guidelines for extracurricular activities included in the chart.

The decision for what model school will use to reopen will be made Tuesday, Aug. 18. Were the district to reopen today, the criteria would require a hybrid model for school reopening. Most of the board meeting was spent discussing the logistics of the district’s new hybrid plan, which incorporates aspects of both in-person and remote learning.

The plan will split students into two groups — one group of students with A-K last names and the other with L-Z last names. For a five-day week, the first group will attend school on Monday and Tuesday and the second will attend on Thursday and Friday; on Wednesday, neither group would attend school in person and buildings would be sanitized and cleaned. 

On the days students don’t receive in-person instruction, they’ll attend online learning. All days except Wednesdays will follow block scheduling at the high school level; on Wednesdays, high school students will attend all eight of their classes online. 

“The hybrid model is the best and the worst of both settings,” Harwood said. “From a risk mitigation standpoint, it’s better than in-person; for instruction, it’s better than remote. The back and forth, though, will be difficult.”

The board also modified its plans for remote learning. While at a previous meeting, the district indicated that students would be unable to participate in clubs or sports on-site if they chose the remote learning option, the district will now allow remote students to participate in person in extracurriculars outside of the school day. They will also be allowed to attend extracurriculars during the school day remotely. Students who elect remote learning will have to remain online for a semester.

High school teachers will likely be unable to choose to teach remotely, according to Harwood. 

The district also approved an adjusted calendar for the year. The calendar, designed around the new Sep. 8 school start date, will feature a shortened spring break and adds additional teacher professional days to the beginning of the year. Graduation and the last day of school will take place at their normal times. 

The board is scheduled to meet again Monday, Sep. 14. A special meeting may be called before that date if necessary. 

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