Rolla School Board approves COVID-19 safety plan for 2021-22 school year

Lori Amos
The Rolla Daily News

The Rolla Board of Education approved the district’s Safe Return to In-Person Instruction, Continuity of Services plan for the 2021-2022 school year, where parents will have the option to enroll their children in fully seated or online classes, and COVID-19 vaccines will not be part of the list of required vaccines students must have to attend school.

Rolla 31 School District Superintendent Craig Hounsom said, “The goal, as it was for last year, is to have a full year of instruction and have all of our students experience a 2021-2022 school year.”

Online Courses

According to Hounsom, more parents have been enrolling their children in online classes due to COVID-19. 

The fully online courses have already been available for many years through the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program. Still, due to demand, Rolla 31 School District will begin offering local courses aligned with Missouri learning standards and approved by the state. 

“We will have local offerings of programs that we have, but parents and students are also free to go to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program website, and research those providers," Hounsom said. “If they find a provider there, they prefer, then we will work with that provider as well.”

Students fully enrolled in online courses are also eligible to participate in sports and activities through the Missouri State High School Activities Association, which Rolla School District began offering last year. 

Parents can sign their students up for online classes beginning Aug. 1, and devices are available for students as needed. 

Masking and Personal Protection Equipment

During standard operating times, students and staff will have the option to wear masks, similar to the district’s mask mandate during summer school, which Hounsom noted was successful with smaller classes before the Delta variant took off. 

Masks and face coverings must comply with the district’s dress code and be free of any wording or advertisements that could disrupt the educational environment. 

“I would like our standard operating procedure to be optional masks, with a potential pivot to require masks if we get to an emergency situation and we are told so,” Hounsom said. “Our intent and our hope is to have an optional mask policy for the entire school year.”

There will be disposable masks available as needed for students and visitors, and periodic changes may occur due to a fluctuation in state guidance or based on community and district conditions.  

Due to a federal order, students and staff must wear masks on school buses and all of the district's public transportation.

Buses in Rolla used by Rolla School District.

“To reduce the population on school buses, we do ask parents, when possible, to transport their students, and we will distance students on buses to the greatest extent possible,” Hounsom said. ”But knowing our bus population, we will not be able to say we can socially distance on all buses.”

If COVID-19 cases rise, Hounsom said the district would remain fluid with masking protocols.

Physical Distancing and Cohorts

In an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, Rolla School District will not mix classes for lunch and recess and will retain the cohort model used in elementary and middle school last year. 

“We will still have students report to their classroom and try to limit the contact students have to their classroom cohorts. That includes arrival time and dismissal,” Hounsom said.

Identical to last year, students at Rolla Junior High, Rolla Technical Institute and Rolla Technical Center will follow their regular class schedules with the district distancing students to the greatest extent possible. 

“We think we can get more than three feet, and in some classes, we can get six feet, but we can’t say that in every single class,” Hounsom said. “But we will try to socially distance them as much as possible in the classes that we can’t.”

Students will still have the option to wear masks if they are uncomfortable being so close to their peers, especially in larger classes, Hounsom said.  

Volunteers and Visitors Program

“We would like to reinstate the volunteers and visitors to classrooms who are essential to the educational process on a more limited basis,” Hounsom said. 

Non-essential visitors will not be permitted beyond the main office area to limit exposure to other groups of students and staff, but essential visitors and volunteers, defined in the district’s plan as those necessary for the education and social or emotional wellbeing of students and staff, will be allowed to enter district facilities. 

Gina Zervos, director of the district’s volunteer program, said she will work with volunteers to make sure they follow district guidelines. Unvaccinated visitors will be asked to wear masks while in district facilities. 

Volunteer programs could be limited at any time during the school year, Hounsom noted.  

Handwashing and Respiratory Etiquette

Students will receive instruction on proper handwashing procedures with hand sanitizer available throughout district facilities and at most exterior doors. Signage will continue to be displayed to encourage healthy habits such as properly washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

District staff will also teach students proper handwashing and sanitation procedures.

Healthy Facilities 

Hounsom said the district’s custodial department has implemented a specified sanitation plan using approved cleaning products across the district, focusing mainly on high volume areas and frequently touched surfaces. 

Rolla School District is asking families to help contribute to the supply of these items by adding them to the district’s student supply list. 

Hounsom said the district will continue to look at heating, ventilation, and air conditioning improvements and monitor indoor air quality in some district buildings.  

“We have some plans that we think we can do more quickly to help with the indoor air quality in buildings,” Hounsom said. 

Health Screenings

Hounsom said personal health screenings are vital to a healthy environment, and students and staff should self-screen daily for symptoms related to COVID-19. 

“If you a sick and are not feeling well, you don’t come to school if you are a student, and you don’t come to work if you are an employee,” Hounsom said. “We are simply at a point now that if you are under the weather, our preference is you stay home. We will get you the homework and instruction.” 

The district will also have free COVID-19 tests available for students and staff at Your Community Health Center.

Individuals should contact their building nurse for more information and testing locations. 

Contact Tracing and Quarantine

District staff will do contact tracing in consultation with the Phelps Maries County Health Department. 

Fully vaccinated staff and students are currently exempt from having to quarantine. 

“I will tell you this is not gone. We are not a full mask mandate school. It may take away some of the options we had for shorter quarantines. That is a reality that we live in,” Hounsom said. “We had some allowances for those who are wearing masks to change their quarantine. Those allowances will still be there for those students who elect to wear a mask.” 

The district will only provide close contact tracing information for in-school contacts. 

Hounsom said, “We are not seeking to do contact tracing outside of school or look at their circle of influence outside of school, but as far as to close contacts in school, we will monitor that.” 

“Our goal is to quarantine as few kids as possible. We are not looking to expand the circle of contacts of a possible case out so far that we have this large number of kids quarantined,” he said. 

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Rolla School District will provide information to eligible parents, staff and students about vaccination opportunities. 

“We are fortunate to live in a community where finding a vaccine supply is not difficult. They are there every day. And that is not the case in some smaller Missouri communities,” Hounsom said. 

Hounsom also acknowledged the growing debate about vaccines, with those adamant that everyone should get one, those who are adamant that they are not going to, and those trying to make up their minds on whether they should get one or not. 

“If you are one of those who are trying to make up their mind if this is the right choice for you, I’d simply urge you to speak with your doctor, your medical provider, your health care provider about that decision,” Hounsom said. “I will tell you my wife and I did that very thing. We really thought about what the right thing to do for our family is, talked to our health care provider, and we made that decision to get our family vaccinated. I am not telling you what to do. It is a very personal decision.” 

Fully vaccinated staff and students will be exempt from quarantine rules during the upcoming school year. 

“We work with the university a lot through this. Their goal is 85 percent vaccinated between all of their staff and students. I would be really happy if we could get to 85 percent,” Hounsom said. “Frankly, it will open up some opportunities for normalcy; I am afraid that we won’t have if we don’t have higher levels.”

The district is currently not collecting vaccination information or asking students and staff to prove their vaccination status. 

The only scenario, Hounsom said he could foresee the district asking students or staff for their vaccination status is if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 or is identified as a close contact to someone who tested positive for the virus.

Accommodations and Special Services

Special education teachers and therapists will continue to provide services and necessary accommodations for students in Individualized Education Programs, Individualized Service Plans, English Language Learners and Title I eligible students.

Counseling and mental health services will also be available for students and staff, according to Hounsom. 

School Closures

Rolla School District will consider phasing school closures based upon city, county and state guidelines and view the percentage of a site population testing positive for COVID-19 relative to the environment of the school building. 

Individual building or classroom closures may be implemented, depending on the exposure risk level across the district. 

“Overall, this is school. We are seeking to do everything we can to provide the education and the services necessary to our kids and our family. I’d like to believe that we have been a positive part of this community for a long time,” Hounsom said. 

“When you say the school district, at times it comes across as this nameless, faceless entity monolith. It’s not. All of us are community members, we are parents, we care about the community, and I promise you we are doing everything we can to provide the services to our kids that they deserve and need,” he said.

The district will publish any updates to the plan, approved by the Rolla Board of Education on July 22, on the Rolla 31 School District website.