Bonneville Joint School District 93 is amending its COVID-19 response plan amid substantial transmission within the district and an increased number of recent new cases.
The district’s board of trustees met Wednesday for a special work session to discuss proposed changes to the plan. The district is currently in the yellow phase of its COVID-19 response plan, which has a threshold of 20 to 49 new cases at the district within a week.
The current seven-day average of new cases is 39.3, according to the district’s data as of Wednesday.
The board voted to add guidance for actions to take if students and staff do not comply with mask requirements that would be in place if the district reaches the red phase of its plan, which has a threshold of 50 or more new cases in the district within a week.
Students and staff who do not wear masks while the district is in its red phase will be informed masks are required at school and be provided with one if they do not have one. If a student continues to be noncompliant, the district will contact the student’s parents. Those who have qualifying medical conditions are exempt from the district’s mask requirement.
The district will not be suspending students who do not wear masks at school. Woolstenhulme said during the meeting that disciplinary measures may have to be taken if the circumstances call for it, but it’s not something the district wants to resort to.
The plan’s amendments also state that students without COVID-19 immunity who were in close contact with an infected person while not wearing a mask appropriately will be excluded from school attendance for a minimum of five days.
Unimmunized students may return to school after taking a COVID-19 test no sooner than five days after the date of exposure and return to school after receiving a negative test result. Students who do not receive a negative test result will be excluded from school for two weeks from the date of their most recent exposure.
The board also approved adding several causes of a school needing to close or suspend services.
Schools may be closed on one of the following conditions:
• Staff absenteeism creates an unsafe environment for students due to lack of supervision
• Student absenteeism is higher than 20%
• Outbreak of COVID-19 in a school with low compliance with the masking requirement (<90% as reported by the school principal) may result in the school being closed for five school days. An outbreak is defined as five or more exposed individuals contracting COVID-19 within a one-week time frame.
• Other unforeseen circumstances that present a significant safety concern to the school principal and district leadership team
Woolstenhulme said during the meeting that the district has been struggling with staffing in its child nutrition department. An outbreak within the transportation department could also create problems.
If employee absenteeism prevents the district from providing transportation or child nutrition services, the district will notify families through email, voice message and text message by 7 p.m. the day prior to suspension of services.
The district may be unable to send notice the day prior to suspended services due to employee circumstances. Staff will attempt to notify families as early as they can.
Board member Greg Calder said during the meeting he was open to having a mask requirement for elementary students because they are not eligible for a vaccine yet.
“I don’t love it. It sucks, but it feels like the right direction. If I were making the decision I would push harder on (masks for elementary kids),” Calder said during the meeting.
Woolstenhulme said during the meeting he spoke to elementary administrators about a mask requirement. While they were open to the idea, and it's a discussion they may revisit, they were concerned that schools would be the only institutions that had mask requirements. Administrators informed him they felt it would not be helpful if other extracurricular organizations such as churches and sports leagues were not requiring masks.
“I still think that’s a conversation we need to be open to,” Woolstenhulme said during the meeting. “As we were at an elementary school this morning we heard multiple reports of COVID cases being reported at that school, and it's certainly concerning.”
The percentage of COVID-19 case rate among children aged 5-12 in Bonneville County compared to the county’s total reported cases is nearly double what it was last year.
From district 93’s first day of school on Aug. 30 to Sept. 20, there have been 166 total cases in the county from that age group, according to Eastern Idaho Public Health’s COVID-19 data. That’s been 8.34% of the county’s total cases within that time frame.
During that same time period last year, there were 55 total cases in the county among children aged 5-12, which was 4.53% of the county’s total cases.
In an email to the Post Register, health district Public Information Officer Mimi Taylor said health officials anticipated seeing COVID-19 cases in school-aged children with school starting and the delta variant circulating.
“We know that viral transmission increases if COVID-19 mitigation strategies, like vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, are not followed,” Taylor said in the email.