By Lyndsie Kiebert
The Lake Pend Oreille School District Board of Trustees finalized the district’s COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 school year at its meeting Aug. 10, marking the second year in a row that education authorities have had to give consideration to keeping students and teachers safe during a global pandemic.
The guidelines for the coming school year include optional masking practices; a requirement that students who don’t feel well stay home; encouragement — but no requirement — that parents “who wish to have their student vaccinated” seek out opportunities to do so; hand washing and respiratory etiquette; and the requirement that those who test positive self-isolate for 10 days.
The final piece of the puzzle regarded contact tracing. Last year, any student deemed a close contact to an individual who tested positive for the virus was asked to quarantine. Superintendent Tom Albertson introduced a new protocol for the board’s approval Aug. 10: Rather than close contacts isolating, a notification will be sent to parents of every child in a classroom that experiences an infection, requesting that they monitor their children for symptoms.
“We would not be disrupting as much education as we did last year,” Albertson said, adding later, “This is more mainstream than the contact tracing we did last year.”
However, if a student lives in the same household as someone who tests positive, that student is still asked to self-isolate at home.
Board Chair Geraldine Lewis said she liked the proposal because “it follows what we have in place for our other contagious, infectious diseases.”
“I think that if we find out that we’re having massive outbreaks in classrooms we would have to reevaluate the success of what we’re doing,” she said.
Trustee Lonnie Williams said that he believed the only surefire way to avoid “big jumps” in cases of COVID-19 in the school system is to rely on students and parents to be honest and accountable.
“The most important thing here, just like we talked about last year and probably every year prior to COVID being a thing … [is that] kids have to speak up and parents have to listen and keep your kids home if they’re sick, just like if it was a flu or anything else,” he said.
The board voted unanimously in favor of the new contact tracing guidelines.
“Bottom line is I’ve spent some time in Boise, I’ve talked to some other school districts, and I think that our plan is reasonable,” Albertson said after the vote. “I do agree with Trustee Williams, that it’s a partnership with parents and the best thing to do is for parents to monitor their own student’s health and if there are any symptoms or they’re not feeling well, it is best for the parents to keep the kids home.”
Health officials across the state are preparing for the worst — care rationing — as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, due in large part to the extremely contagious Delta variant of the disease. On Aug. 17, Idaho State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn told reporters that the Gem State is “headed for a hospital crisis,” according to the Idaho Capital Sun, and that she and other officials want to “get the message out on how worried we are, and how serious we think this is.”
“The surge is driving our projections upward to about 30,000 cases per week by mid-October,” said deputy state epidemiologist Kathryn Turner during the Tuesday briefing. “This is beyond what we saw last winter, when our cases peaked in December.”
State health authorities are recommending vaccinations — available for walk-in appointments at most pharmacies — and masking while indoors to slow the spread.
Read LPOSD’s COVID-19 protocols for the coming school year by visiting lposd.org and clicking on the link at the top of the home page: “School Operation Plan for 2021-2022.”
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