School’s out for summer, again.
Summer classes at Jackson Hole Middle School have been canceled early because of a COVID-19 case that Teton County School District No. 1 found out about last Thursday.
There was no summer school Friday, so the district took the weekend to disinfect the school and let it “rest,” said information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds, who declined to say whether it was a student or staff member. Under guidance from the Teton County Health Department, students and teachers returned Monday and Tuesday, but then the department recommended the entire classroom where the case was found be shut down.
Under the district’s Smart Start plan, the rest of the school could stay open, but due to low staff and student numbers, Reynolds said, it made more sense to close the program early. It was set to end Aug. 13.
“Although the Teton County Health Department is not requiring us to close at this time, we believe that it is necessary to take these additional safety precautions to ensure the safety of our students and staff and the program is also being negatively impacted by limited staff availability,” the district told parents in a letter.
Classes at Colter Elementary School will continue until Aug. 13 because the schools operate separately, meaning the exposure at the middle school didn’t carry over into Colter.
Returning to school is important for many reasons, including that many parents rely on the supervision offered during the work day, and that students’ social and interpersonal skills develop during their time with peers at school.
“Some students ASKED to be a part of summer school and have really thrived in being with one another and with our staff,” the district wrote in an update to teachers. “Evidence of what we already know — school is important for more than just academics. Relationships matter.”
However, the case underscores the tenuous nature of reopening schools. Research has suggested children, especially under the age of 10, may be less likely to contract or spread the virus, but assembling hundreds of people in a building, no matter their demographic makeup, poses risks.
Summer school has given the district the chance to practice what it will do if a case shows up during the normal school year.
“Basically what we’re doing with summer school is the same thing that we will do when school does reopen. ... When there is a case, we close the building, clean it up and consult with the Department of Health on appropriate steps,” Reynolds told the Jackson Hole Daily.
Even though district administrators had been prepared for this eventuality, high numbers of positive cases and community spread in Teton County warrant discussion in relation to in-person reopenings. The district’s board of trustees’ monthly meeting is at 6 p.m. on Aug. 12, and Reynolds said staff will provide an update on how to balance in-person instruction and distance learning.
To that end, they are asking parents to fill out an attendance model request form by Thursday. Parents can choose in-person instruction, distance learning for a set amount of time (a semester or the year), or distance learning for a shorter amount of time at the beginning of the school year to gauge how the COVID-19 mitigation strategies are working.
Though district administrators are forging ahead with in-person learning starting Sept. 1, the positive case is galvanizing them to make sure their systems are solid.
“I don’t think it necessarily changes anything,” Reynolds said, “but I do think it just reinforces for us all the logistics and details and things that we really have to think through.”