The Albany County School District No. 1 Board of Education mulled potential COVID-19 mitigation strategies for the upcoming school year during a board meeting Wednesday night.
Superintendent Jubal Yennie presented a draft letter for the board’s consideration that he intends to send to parents, teachers and staff members outlining “layers of prevention” the district will provide this fall.
The letter prompted a long conversation among Yennie and board members regarding how to encourage vaccination, whether masks should be required and the unique challenges for the Albany County community because of the presence of the University of Wyoming.
“Parents should know what to expect of schools when we come back on Aug. 26,” Yennie said.
He said the district would not be offering classroom-based virtual education, which it offered last year and which allowed students to attend school remotely.
“We are not going to offer a learning environment that will be separate,” he said.
Yennie said Albany County is not yet past the COVID-19 pandemic, even as uncertainty continues regarding what precautions might be necessary. In his draft letter, he outlined vaccination, social distancing, face coverings, ventilation, hand-washing, enhanced cleaning and isolation for sick individuals as protection measures.
The draft letter suggested that face coverings would be mostly optional in district facilities and not required outdoors, though Yennie said he was unsure that Albany County’s most recent health metrics supported that decision.
“This is rapidly changing again,” he said. “We are witnessing behavior that says everything is just fine. I’m telling you — everything is not fine.”
Another tricky issue for the board was whether to treat elementary schools differently, where students are younger than 12 and thus don’t have access to a vaccine yet.
Board member Emily Sigel Stanton said a mask-optional environment in schools where vaccines aren’t available for students might make some families nervous, given that there’s no remote-learning option this year.
“We need to make sure the school environment is safe for every kid,” she said.
Board members said they haven’t been receiving many questions from the community yet, but they suggested that more communication was a positive move even when processes are subject to revision.
“Anything we can communicate gives people something,” said board chair Janice Marshall. “They’ll know we’re working on it.”
Other board members observed that the start of the University of Wyoming fall semester would bring thousands of people to town from around the country, changing the county’s COVID-19 outlook.
“We’re really going to have to look at this,” said board member Kim Sorenson. “We might be entering the school year with a lot more questions than we were a year ago at this time.”