‘First day of school’

Park High, SGMS returning soon to full-time school
Sam Klomhaus - Enterprise Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2021
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A Park High band tuba player plays through a double mask as he practices with fellow band members Wednesday. Enterprise photos by Sam Klomhaus

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A carbon dioxide monitor measures air quality levels at Park High Wednesday. The monitor was broken that day and giving a CO2 number that was higher than it should have been, but it is being replaced, Park County Health Department officials said.

Park High School and Sleeping Giant Middle School are making preparations to bring students back four days a week March 8.

Both schools have had students on campus two days a week since the beginning of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington School, Winans Elementary and East Side School have all gone to four days a week after starting with two.

Park High Co-Principal Lynne Scalia said Wednesday that March 8 is being treated as the “first day of school,” as it will be the first day Park High has all its students on site at the same time in nearly a year.

SGMS Principal Dorel Hoglund agreed with that sentiment, saying coming back onsite could be stressful for students.

Hoglund said SGMS will use the week before fully opening, assuming the school is ready, to prepare students for the changes. This will be particularly important for SGMS’s younger students, she said.

Neither school is planning a buffer period with students at school three days per week before moving to four.

There are still some hurdles left for SGMS to clear before fully re-opening, Hoglund said, but she’s confident the school will be ready in time.

The main issue, Hoglund said, is physical space.

According to SGMS’s reopening plan, which Hoglund presented to the Livingston School District Board last week, both staff and parents have expressed concerns about less social distancing between students leading to higher risk of virus transmission at the school.

The reopening plan states SGMS, if open fully, will have to lower the physical distancing requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet, with some classes unable to meet even the 3 feet threshold.

Hoglund said work to mitigate that issue is underway, and she thinks the problem will be solved by March 8.

“We believe it can happen, and we’re ready,” Hoglund said.

At both schools, significant work has been done to improve the air quality and ventilation systems, according to Brian Solan, who works with the district through energy efficiency company Amaresco.

Solan said the district is in the midst of a long-term project to upgrade indoor air ventilation in schools, and much work was done over the summer to improve the schools’ air quality, although the bulk of the work on the project is yet to come.

District Maintenance Supervisor Derek Stringer said Livingston schools have responded much more quickly to air quality issues than most districts, which included upgrading the district’s air filters to Center for Disease Control recommended specifications.

Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick said Wednesday district and Health Department staff have been measuring air quality at the schools extensively in recent weeks, as fresh air makes COVID-19 spread less likely because the virus is spread through breath.

Park High reported one new COVID-19 case Wednesday, school nurse Holly Sienkiewicz said, which is the first case the school has had since Jan. 19.

Overall, Desnick said, COVID-19 numbers at Park High and SGMS have been low, with no spread within schools since one outbreak at the beginning of the school year, which was determined to be caused by a mask issue.

Although some students have expressed concerns that Park High might be returning to full-time school too quickly, Scalia said she feels like the student body overall is ready to get back.

Desnick said this may be an issue in which the adults know what’s best for the kids better than the kids do.

In addition to bringing students back four days a week, Park High is opening campus up and allowing students to leave for lunch, Scalia said, and the school has provided guidance to students for how to go about that, including masking up in cars if riding together and keeping time in enclosed spaces short.

At Park High, students will be on-site four days a week with Fridays off so teachers can plan and work with students who are still off-site, Scalia told the school board last week.

At SGMS students will be on-site four days a week and learn remotely one day a week, Hoglund said.

Whatever issues may arise between now and opening, and even after opening, Hoglund said she’s confident in her staff’s ability to come up with solutions.

“We are ready for the 8th and looking forward to it,” Hoglund said.