District updates COVID mitigation plan ahead of first day of school

A change to the school district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan calls for a reduction in testing and an increased focus on students and staff staying “symptom-free.”

During the school board meeting Aug. 15, Schools Superintendent Bill Burr detailed what language was removed, what was added and what was kept in the ever-evolving mitigation plan. The district and board review the plan on a regular basis to make necessary changes.

The district adopted the test-to-stay protocol last school year, which required students and staff to be tested for COVID-19 if they were exhibiting symptoms or had a close contact with an infected person. The schools also adopted a symptom-free stance, asking students and staff to stay home if they had symptoms of COVID, flu, cold, etc.

“Wrangell Public Schools still recommends that families consider each close contact situation, vaccination status, and whether to quarantine for five days,” the plan states. “To minimize disruption to learning … (the district) allows individuals identified as close contact to return to school if symptom-free. When available, families may use at-home antigen tests to test prior to coming to school. Students can request to test upon arrival at school.”

Student-athletes, coaches and support staff will still be required to test before traveling to away games, however they will not be required to test upon return, as the schools are rationing a dwindling supply of tests.

“We don’t want to have COVID transmission — or any illness — to any other community,” Burr said. The district will ask schools coming to Wrangell for sports and other extracurricular activities to test and have anyone exhibiting symptoms to remain home. Not all school districts in Southeast have the same requirements, he said.

Burr said he looks at the mitigation plan every month, placing it on the board agenda whether or not there are any changes. “If there are, I talk about the updates at the meeting itself.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance two weeks ago to drop test-to-stay, spurring Burr and staff to adapt the mitigation plan the day of the board meeting. Losing that requirement and keeping the symptom-free requirement is a trade-off, he said.

Students with symptoms who are asked to stay home will still have access to their study materials online, though Zoom classes will no longer be held, Burr said. “If we want people to stay home when they’re sick, we still have to provide an online presence. It’s not possible at this stage to have a regular (Zoom) class.”

School board president Dave Wilson said school staff are doing their part to make sure facilities are cleaned every night, and said it’s important those who are sick or exhibiting symptoms stay home.

“Anytime it comes into the school, it spreads like wildfire,” Wilson said.

If there are outbreaks, Burr said staff would do their best to notify parents of their child’s exposure as they would if there was an outbreak of something like lice.

“If we can keep a safe symptom-free school, then we don’t have as strict mitigation on what students can do,” he said. “It’s kind of the beginning of trying to get back to the new normal of education.”


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