USD 457 School Board approves COVID-19 safety plan for 2021-22 school year that recommends vaccinations

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
USD 457 Board of Education members Dana Nanninga, left, Lara Bors and Mark Rude listen to a presentation at the Board's regular meeting Monday at the Educational Support Center.

Garden City Public School District COVID Operational and Safety Plan for 2021-22 was approved at Monday's regular USD 457 Board of Education meeting. 

The Board discussed the plan at the July 13 meeting, but asked for a language change on one of the points in the one-page flier about who recommends the COVID-19 vaccine. 

It now reads: COVID vaccines are not required, however, COVID vaccinations are recommended in accordance with CDC and KDHE guidelines, or the student or the employee's medical professional. 

An amendment was also made at the July 26 meeting to include "COVID" in the title of the plan.

Steve Karlin, USD 457 superintendent, said the exclusion of COVID in the document presented was a mistake as it was supposed to have that in title after it was brought up at the previous meeting. 

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Board member Jennifer Standley said she was glad for the language change in both the vaccination recommendation, but still has some concerns about the plan. In particular she feels like there are protocols where the school district will require certain protocols where parents should be making the choices. 

"I would prefer that there would be a place in there where students could opt out of wearing masks and it remain a choice, because it is stated in there that there is a point where the school could require those protocols," she said. "I guess that's been my stance all along ... I'm just still not sure that I'm supportive as an individual because I still don't think that masking kids and forcing employees to mask if they don't feel it's best for their health is the right choice."

Karlin said three main ideas were kept in mind while creating the plan – student safety, having student in school face-to-face as much as possible, and having school as normally as possible. 

The COVID plan last year worked well, but they didn't want it to be as structured this year, Karlin said. They've taken the old plan down and put it on a shelf, but haven't thrown it away, because as much as they hope they don't have to go back to it, they recognize that there is a possibility they may have to. 

"We are consciously trying to take an approach that allows a little more flexibility and hopefully people would have a much more normal school year experience," he said.

With that said, the Finney County Health Department still has a role in school this year, Karlin said. People are still coming up positive for COVID-19 and quarantines will still happen, but that's in the domain of the Health Department.

"There could come a point where the Health Department says, look, you have x number of cases in this building and transmission in the community is at a certain level, or transmission in the school has occurred, so the most effective means to prevent further spread and not get to the point where nobody's in school might be we're going to put masks on at school, we're going to mask up for two weeks or three weeks in hopes that the numbers are going to go down," he said. 

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Other possible changes could occur are incorporating changes to how they handle lunch, or incorporating staggered start and dismissal schedules, etc., some of the preventative strategies used last year, Karlin said. They're trying to take a more flexible approach this school year.

"I think it is important that that is what we intend to tell them, those decisions would be made jointly between the district, the building administration and the Health Department," he said. "However, if we saw the numbers explode and the thinking was we need to have a district-wide mask requirement, then we would not do that unilaterally, we would bring that back for a board action. If we were going to impose something district-wide."

Karlin said the school district's plan is not that aggressive at this point, but they will follow the CDC's guidelines and try to balance the advice from state, federal and local experts as well as what's being seeing locally. 

Other points from the document include: 

  • Masks are optional for all staff and students effective July 1. 
  • All public health measures will be followed and daily screenings for staff will continue. The screening can be reevaluated as the school year progresses and will include travel restrictions, quarantine expectation, vaccination protocol, etc.
  • Continued promotion of vaccination opportunities for students and adults. This will be done in collaboration with the Finney County Health Department and school nurses.
  • Hand sanitizing and cleaning supplies will be available for order. 
  • Continued emphasis on hand washing. 
  • Building ventilation will continue to be optimized for the district plan. 
  • Enhances sanitation procedures. 
  • Nurses will continue to monitor for illness, follow COVID protocols. 
  • Students and staff should stay home if sick. 
  • COVID testing will be available at schools by appointment. 
  • Employees will utilize accrued leave if they have to quarantine.