During a special meeting of the Duncan School Board of Education on Monday night, the board discussed practices and policies for face coverings in the district’s schools throughout the year.

Superintendent Dr. Tom Deighan approached the board during a special meeting Aug. 10 to clarify some of the procedures and how they will implement some of these guidelines when it comes to mask wearing in the district.

Deighan said he reworded information previously enacted at a prior board meeting for the board to consider.

“Guidelines are subject to change — the CDC, State Department of Education, State Department of Health, have all changed multiple times in the last weeks,” he said. “As a matter of fact, right after our board meeting last Tuesday, the State Department of Education got new guidelines.”

Into the details

Original changes and clarifications Deighan made in the policy show masks are required for all staff and students in grades Pre-K through 12th, with exemptions for adults and children who are physically unable to wear them. The board then added the caveat that a physician’s approval is required for mask exemption.

The original language of the motion included the text: “Duncan Regional Hospital will provide this service for free for students. Request information from your school office.”

Deighan said: “Jay Johnson has committed, they’re just trying to get their policy right on how they will help provide that. So … for any students or any parents in the district who are unable to go to the doctor or copay is expensive, Duncan Regional Hospital will offer this assessment for those students.”

Deighan continued, stating he would need to strike that sentence from the motion until further notice.

“I’ll have to strike that whole parenthetical sentence, ‘Duncan Regional Hospital will provide this service for free for students. Request information from your school office,’” Deighan said. “What I’ll do is as soon as that information comes from Duncan Regional Hospital, I’ll reinsert it for the board to approve at a later date, just that little section.”

As far as exemption, Deighan said he did “add red language to the staff, same as the students — a physician’s approval is required for exemption.”

“What I would like to recommend to the board is if we have to make any changes or updates to this, other than the one I mentioned, that we’ll make sure we agree on them, I’ll get them changed and ready for tomorrow night’s (Tuesday’s) board meeting, if they’re extensive,” Deighan said.

Eric Davis, board member, then addressed Duncan Regional providing doctors notes, stating “that’s administrative, not policy.”

Deighan said even after striking the language for this meeting with addendum it could be added later, the clause could be left out entirely if it made the board more comfortable.

“We don’t have to have it in there,” Deighan said. “I can omit it, and I’m very comfortable omitting it. I have no doubt that Duncan Regional will do that. We can just push that information at sites and we can just let parents know.”

Deighan and Davis agreed it was good to get the information out to parents.

Davis said: “I think that’s information that’s good to get out. I don’t think it needs to be part of policy because they can get the statement from anywhere.”

The language was removed from the motion.

In further discussion, Deighan said one of the many questions he gets from parents is whether or not the masks can be removed.

CDC guidelines allow for short breaks of a maximum of 15 minutes in one setting.

“According to CDC guidelines, short mask breaks are allowable at any time,” Deighan said. “As long as I’m sitting here, for example, only once within this setting.”

Extra curricular activities

Other questions addressed how athletics are going to work throughout the school year.

“Currently, we are screening all athletes for summer activities, football, volleyball, etc. It doesn’t matter if it’s inside or outside, we’re scanning their forehead, we’re screening them before they can participate,” Deighan said.

Following the same template throughout the summer and supported by policy, band will operate with similarly.

“Before they can remove their masks — because it is necessary, unfortunately to remove your mask for band — we would scan their temperatures and (conduct the) same screening that we’ve done all summer,” Deighan said.

This would allow the band to meet the requirement, as there is just not enough room for band to physically socially distance.

Deighan clarified where guidelines read masks are not required for outdoor activities.

“We’re still going to require all students that are participating in outdoor practice, competitions to go ahead and do the scanning, even if the masks are not required,” Deighan said. “We just need to continue that all year long, whether they are inside or outside.”

What the word ‘cohorts’ means

Cohorts, also known as self-contained classrooms, were clarified as to how and what groups this would affect.

“Whenever there’s a necessity to remove the mask, anytime a group would remove the mask, anytime a group cohort would, they would have to either be a self-contained classroom — which I did ask the State Department that very question — they confirmed that they considered that language to mean a self-contained classroom,” Deighan said.

Deighan further clarified this, as band members in a middle school band class have not been in the same self-contained group all day.

“Then we will re-screen. We have students that could be re-screened three or four times during the day, temperature scanning, etc. in order to make sure we’re not — that we’re doing some due diligence to make sure that everybody’s safe,” Deighan said.

According to Deighan, after talking to Ryan Pieper, Executive Director of Accreditation, “they intended the word cohort in their policy to mean a self-contained classroom, only elementary.”

Deighan said when students go to the lunchroom, “they will try to keep them in the same seating with the same kids all day long” meaning classes will remain with their respective class and masks will only come off to eat. These requirements are so they know which students are with whom throughout the day.

Dr. Demetra Cox said kids are at times asymptomatic and could scan fine and still transmit to the teachers.

“I still think it is important that our administrative staff and teachers are promoting social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing,” she said. “Whether you believe in it or not. It’s where the science is.”

Davis said, “if this is what we have to do to have in-person school than that’s the sacrifice we make.”

Bus riding safety

As students return to riding the bus, the board clarified guidelines for mask wearing and bus safety as well.

Students will not be refused boarding on DPS route buses due to not having masks.

“We’ve got to give LeeAnn (Millan, director of transportation) here, huge praise, because she’s found 2,000 paper masks,” Deighan said. “Just in case we have a kid that shows up … in the morning route, we don’t want to leave a kid on the side of the road. We’re going to try to keep that supplied but at some point we’re going to run into a situation where we have a kid and we don’t have any extra masks and I just don’t want to put staff members in the point of leaving a child on the side of the road — and I don’t think that’s anyone’s intent — but I think it would be clear if we put that in there.”

Another question addressed related to plans for when they have to bring a student in on a bus and they don’t have a mask and where they would need to go once they make it to campus grounds.

“Principals have their isolation spot,” Deighan said. “It might not be a room, it might just be an area that’s definitely socially distanced away. Principals have those plans in place.”

Deighan said as of now, they have 6,000 masks and the governor’s masks won’t be in until after Aug. 14. There’s another 16,000 which are supposed to ship in the middle of August.

“We’re going to start the year with at least one cough mask for each student,” Deighan said. “They need to wash it every night and we have available five more for staff members, but we started out by just giving two just in case we had a student show up without a mask. We wanted to make sure we have one to give them. I think that’s a practice day-to-day that the principals can manage.”

Deighan said he gets questions and one of them included whether or not a first grader will be able to keep a mask on.

Deighan said: “I don’t expect a first grader to do that all day, but the hallways are the most important, they’re in a cohort and once they’re in their room, we know — the superintendent fidgets with his mask, we know a first grader is always going to fidget with their mask. This not going to be a perfect science.”

Deighan assured parents they are being reasonable when requiring masks at the schools.

“We’re going to learn a lot — I promise — in these first two or three days,” Deighan said.

According to Deighan, DPS has 220 thermal scanning thermometers.

“We’ll have enough if a teacher wants to — I just ask that they scan all the kids, even if they suspect little ‘Krista’ has a fever — we’ll go ahead and scan all of them, so we don’t single anybody out,” Deighan said. “We can scan as much as we want to in the elementary.”

“We won’t do multiple scanning's with elementary,” Deighan said. “That’s what we would be talking about with the high school, with the band.”

Final decisions from the board

The board made a motion and approved policy amendments regarding face covering guidelines as presented, striking the parenthetical phrase “Duncan Regional Hospital will provide this service for free for students. Request information from your school office.”

The board then made and passed a motion to not take any action on policies related to returning to learning framework components and policy amendments for returning to school guidelines.

The regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting for Duncan Public Schools is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, Aug. 11.

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