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The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released recommendations for reopening schools in the fall, which align with the Jefferson City School District's plan overall.

Created by DESE and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the recommendations, released July 16, are intended to help school leaders and public health officials as they make decisions about reopening strategies.

The guidelines focus on three areas: masks/face coverings, screening and physical distancing.

DESE and DHSS are working to add reactive strategies to the document, such as how to isolate symptomatic students or staff members, how to handle positive COVID-19 cases and how to best be prepared to help local health officials with contact tracing, according to DESE's guidance document.

The guidelines may evolve as health experts learn more about COVID-19, the document states.

While Helias Catholic High School and Blair Oaks R-2 School District administration are still creating their re-entry plans, the Jefferson City School District has a plan, although it could change between now and the start of the school year.

Blair Oaks is surveying families on its re-entry plan to determine what safety precautions are important to families and to gauge what went well and what could have improved during the spring closure and in-person summer school.

The Blair Oaks district will use what it learns from summer school to create its fall re-entry plan, Superintendent Jim Jones said.

Helias will have eight periods in the school day for the fall semester. Helias does not have enough teachers and classrooms to adhere to social distancing in its typical seven-period day, so eight periods will allow all 750 students to be accommodated while following social-distancing guidelines, according to information on Helias' website.

To maintain 6 feet of distance between students for the fall semester, Helias will also have smaller class sizes and more sections of classes. The school day will be extended by about 30 minutes, Principal Kenya Fuemmeler said.

 

Screening

DESE recommends schools have a process for daily screenings of COVID-19 symptoms and exposure and to provide parents with a screening checklist and encourage parents to screen their children, take their temperatures before going to school and keep them home if they're sick.

Children should be visually inspected for signs and symptoms of illness as they enter the school or classroom, the guidance states. If school leaders require temperature checks, they must "ensure those procedures do not force bottlenecks at building entry points, creating unnecessary situations where students cannot maintain adequate physical distance from one another," according to the guidance.

In the Jefferson City School District, thermal cameras will be at the entrance of each building to scan everyone's temperature. Handheld thermal temperature readers will also be used at buildings when appropriate, such as at additional entrances, by parent educators before meeting with families or for activities purposes, according to the district's re-entry plan.

JC Schools students and staff who are sent home with a fever must be fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication to return to school, and they must have a doctor's note ensuring they do not have a respiratory illness. If they don't have a doctor's note, they must be fever-free for 72 hours.

DESE's guidance states school staff members should self-screen at home and schools should screen staff members upon entry to the building each day. That screening may include a temperature check.

DESE suggested students with symptoms consult their health care provider and follow CDC considerations regarding their return to school.

When students are kept home due to illness at JC Schools, the school attendance secretary will ask about symptoms to confirm whether COVID-19 is a factor, according to the district's plan.

Students diagnosed with COVID-19 can return to school after 10 days from symptom onset if they have had three days without a fever and improving symptoms, DESE's guidance states.

At JC Schools, students and staff who come in close contact with someone who tested positive will not be permitted to return to school until released by the local health department. Staff and families will be notified if the school district is aware of an official positive case within a school building, according to the plan.

When JC Schools students stay home due to illness, the school attendance secretary will ask questions to confirm whether it might be COVID-19.

If the district receives official notification of a student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 and attended school the day they tested positive, the areas they were in will be closed for at least the rest of the day to allow for contact tracing by the local health department.

DESE also recommends schools limit visitors inside the building by conducting virtual meetings with families so they can engage with teachers.

If visitors are unable to meet without entering the building, schools should screen visitors for COVID-19 by asking about symptoms and checking their temperature and then limiting their movement throughout the building.

DESE also recommends keeping a record of visitors that includes areas of the school they were in and the time the visitor entered and exited the building.

JC Schools is not allowing non-essential visitors into the buildings. If a visitor must come into the building, they will be required to wear a mask, use the main entrance to be scanned by a thermal camera, and tracked in a visitor log that includes screening questions, date and time of visit, where they visit in the building and students and staff with whom they interacted.

 

Physical distancing

A person is considered a "close contact" of a case of COVID-19 if they are within 6 feet of the case for more than 15 minutes. Close contacts of cases require quarantine for 14 days from last exposure.

"By observing physical distancing in schools and reducing contacts, we can limit the number of children (and staff members) who will need to quarantine if a positive case occurs in school," DESE's guidance states.

DESE recommends schools assign students to groups and keep students and adults in the same group throughout the day. If classes must rotate, DESE suggests schools consider rotating teachers instead of students.

DESE also recommends enforcing assigned seating, keeping records of seating charts, spacing students as much as possible, facing desks forward in the same direction so students do not sit face-to-face, placing physical distancing markers throughout the building, and requiring hand-washing before and after students move from one space to another.

The risk of transmitting the virus outdoors is lower, so schools may also consider using outdoor learning spaces more often, the guidance states.

DESE recommends using strategies to reduce contact on buses, including screening students at home before getting on the bus, encouraging hand-washing before getting on the bus, having assigned seats, seating siblings together, loading the bus from back to front, encouraging use of face masks, having windows open when safe and weather permitting, and providing bus drivers and monitors with personal protective equipment.

Students should eat in their classrooms when possible, and schools should consider having staff bring meals to the classrooms, the guidance states. Older students could have multiple separate lunch periods and alternate locations such as an outdoor environment or large indoor space.

During recess and physical education classes, each cohort could have assigned equipment to reduce the need to sanitize them. If that's not possible, individual equipment should be cleaned after each use, DESE recommends. Schools should also require hand-washing before and after recess and physical education.

"Stationary playground equipment does not need to be cleaned, with the exception of handrails and other high touch surfaces," which should be cleaned in accordance with CDC guidelines.

At JC Schools, students will have assigned seats in classrooms, common areas and buses, and "small groups will be utilized to the extent possible," according to the plan. Desks will be spaced out as far as possible, and non-essential furniture will be removed. School gatherings such as assemblies will not be held unless students can socially distance. Any time a new group of students accesses an area, the area will be cleaned and disinfected.

Other changes throughout the school day may include elementary teachers for art and music coming to primary classrooms, recess times being staggered, and some students eating meals in classrooms and common areas, according to the plan.

 

Masks

While DESE does not recommend continuous use of face coverings for young children, it does recommend schools consider requiring masks for older children when physical distancing is not possible.

However, all students should wear masks on buses, the guidance states.

DESE also recommends all staff members wear masks when they are close to students or other staff members.

At JC Schools, students in grades 6-12 and all staff will be required to wear a mask or face covering when social distancing cannot be maintained, such as passing periods and lunch lines, and students in grades K-12 must wear a mask on buses.

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