The Paola school board decides to stay in phase 1 of the COVID plan | Coronavirus



PAOLA – No action was taken at a special Paola USD 368 school board meeting on Tuesday, September 21, but there was a lot of discussion about policies related to the pandemic during the two-hour meeting.

The special afternoon board meeting was called just over a week after Paola’s school board members decided at their September 13 meeting to stay in phase 1 of the plan. back to school safely from the district and keep optional masks.

At that time, there were a total of 27 active cases in the district (23 involving students and four involving staff members). That district-wide total rose to 39 active cases (37 students and two staff), according to the report updated on Friday, September 17.

Paola’s school board member Scott Golubski said he asked for the special meeting to be called because he feared school administrators would be overwhelmed by the recent increase in cases, especially after testing was introduced. for quarantined students who would like to participate in athletics and other extracurricular events.

“I felt like it was our job to at least discuss it,” Golubski said.

When Golubski asked the principal of each school at the special meeting to comment on their workload, all said that dealing with COVID-19-related tasks such as testing and collecting data to be sent to the Department of Miami County health to determine close contact had been consuming very long.

“It consumes my day,” said Paola middle school principal Mark Bloustine. “It’s very, very trying for us to do that. “

The only items on the agenda for Tuesday’s special meeting were the open forum, COVID discussion, and phase determination.

The masks would only be required as part of phase 3 of the plan. District officials have previously said that a significant increase in the number of cases could prompt the district to move to phase 2, which would require students or staff quarantined due to close contact to wear a mask and have a daily COVID-19 test if they want to return to school during their quarantine. Phase 1 allows quarantined students and faculty to attend school if they are asymptomatic and agree to wear a disposable surgical mask.

The plan was also revised at the school board meeting on September 13 to allow a student in quarantine to be tested for COVID-19 in the afternoon if they wish to participate in an extracurricular activity or event. athletic without wearing a mask. Superintendent Matt Meek said the district qualified for a KDHE COVID testing grant and about 2,000 antigen testing kits have already been delivered.

The tests were immediately implemented, as school board members at Tuesday’s special meeting discussed new cases over the past week related to a college sports team that quarantined several Paola students. Middle School.

According to updated figures provided by Meek at the special council meeting, there are currently 16 active cases at the college. That’s slightly down from the 19 that were reported on Friday, although Meek stressed that this is just two more days of data.

Active cases at Paola High School fell from 11 to three from Friday to Tuesday, active cases at Sunflower Elementary fell from six to three, and active cases at Cottonwood Elementary fell from three to two.

“Personally, I don’t see the data to back up a change at this point,” said Cathy Macfarlane, school board member.

Her sentiment was echoed by the majority of parents who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. About ten people registered to speak at the open forum, and only one of them spoke in favor of the requirement to wear a mask.

The mother, who was the first to speak, said her son was exposed to COVID at school, and reminded the school board that several children are medically fragile.

“We have to be proactive, not passive and reactive,” she said.

Another mother said the rapid antigen is not a reliable test, and she said the tests should be administered by a healthcare professional.

Meek said there had been a few cases where the antigen test was positive, but the PCR test was negative, but added that when these students were tested again, the antigen and PCR tests were positive.

A father asked the school board to establish baseline data for the different phases to reduce confusion for parents.

“Let the data decide, not the emotions,” he said.

Another father agreed, saying decisions about masks and vaccines should be left to parents.

“We are arrogantly pursuing an unattainable goal of zero COVID cases,” he said. “Letting the immune system do what it’s designed to do is not a conspiracy theory.”

A mother used a device to measure her expiratory oxygen concentration while wearing a mask, and she illustrated how the alarm sounded due to falling levels. She also allowed her three young children to talk about why they don’t want to wear masks.

A father asked school board members to take individual liberties and freedoms into account when making their decisions, and his wife asked the school board to let parents make decisions for their families.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, Meek updated board members on the COVID-19 statistics. He said there were 15 cases in total in August and September of last year, but there were 64 cases in total during the same period this year.

Meek also estimated recent quarantine numbers for schools, saying Cottonwood was at 67, Sunflower 122, Paola Middle School 140, and Paola High School 330.

“A positive result in about 50 high school quarantines,” Meek said.

Although school board members have chosen not to implement a mask mandate, they have expressed an interest in changing parts of their current policies.

Student tests, in particular, were questioned on several occasions. Meek said stopping testing would actually ease a big burden on his faculty, but under current guidelines, students in quarantine would not be able to participate unless they tested negative.

School board members acknowledged that since the only action item on the agenda was determining the phase, they would have to wait until at least the October 11 school board meeting to make changes to the plan.

In the meantime, they tasked Meek with collecting data on a number of topics to be discussed at the October meeting. These items include: researching potential data references to use in determining phases, consider removing the newly added testing option from the plan, researching whether decisions need to be made district-wide or building-by-building, researching whether vaccinated people should also be masked in quarantine, speak with Osawatomie officials USD 367 to see if the term of the masks makes a difference in numbers, find out if the masks should be worn during the PE or outside, and ask the Miami County Department of Health what would happen if the district did not follow its recommendations.

Meek said tests on the quarantined athletes took place because the district was recently informed by the health department that students should not participate in athletic events and training while wearing a mask. Macfarlane asked whether or not this was an actual requirement, as she couldn’t find anything online from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

An audience of around 40 attended the school board meeting and additional chairs were set up to accommodate the crowd. Golubski thanked the parents for coming and assured them that everyone is doing their best to make the right decisions.

“I’m a hell of an electrician, and I’m trying to figure that out,” Golubski said. “It’s a tough business … I’ve never been involved in something as divided as this.”

Meek also called on everyone to work together and stay professional. After the last school board meeting, he said he received several impassioned emails that crossed the line.

“We are receiving personal attacks from both sides,” Meek said. “I would now ask that we all try to have a little compassion.”


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