Livingston School District Board closes PHS, SGMS until Oct. 25

By 
Jason Bacaj
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
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Park High School, pictured above, and Sleeping Giant Middle School, below, shifted to off-site learning after a surge in COVID-19 cases at the two schools. Students will return to the classroom Monday Oct. 25. Enterprise photos by Jason Bacaj

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Park High School and Sleeping Giant Middle School are shifting students to offsite learning until Oct. 25 following a 7-1 vote Tuesday evening by the Livingston School Board.

The move follows a spike in COVID-19 cases in the two upper schools this week that has overwhelmed contact tracing efforts. Currently there are 17 cases among students at both PHS and SGMS, according to the Livingston School District’s COVID dashboard. There are a total of 42 COVID-19 cases in the district.

School board member Dan Vermillion said he checked in at SGMS and PHS Tuesday and saw just a small fraction of students wearing masks, despite the district’s universal mask requirement. Vermillion also said that he’s heard from his three children that some students have come to school after testing positive for COVID-19 and that those contagious students also don’t wear masks.

“What am I supposed to do with that as a school board member, when parents are sending their kids to school with a positive COVID test because they don’t believe COVID is real,” Vermillion said. “What are we supposed to do? What are our teachers suppotsed to do? What are our administrators supposed to do? It’s really, really difficult.”

Druska Kinkie, school board member, said that because there’s no statewide mask mandate, the school district has no authority to enforce its own mandate.

“We can ask for it politely, we can say we require it. But at the end of the day, if someone chooses not to wear a mask, what are the consequences?” Kinkie said.

Dr. Laurel Desnick, Park City-County health officer, said the new cases at the school were associated with well over 100 close contacts and that it was “humanly impossible” for the health department’s two full-time contact tracers to reach everyone. Desnick added that it’s essentially a coin flip as to whether those contacted agree to quarantine.

“What we’re seeing is somewhere between 25% to 50% of the people we talk to are saying, ‘Well, basically we’ll think about it’,” Desnick said during the meeting.

The rise in cases in the school district mirrors a broader rise in cases in Park County, Desnick said. She noted that over the past week, the county’s transmission rate has been between 650 and 750 cases per 100,000 — well above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threshold for high risk.

The atmosphere in the high school on Tuesday was drastically different from Winans School, said Holly Sienkiewicz, one of two school district nurses. Sienkiewicz works primarily at PHS and Winans, which teaches first and second grades.

She said students and staff at Winans were fully masked and focused on the school day. At the high school only a handful of students wore masks and there was a palpable sense of concern and anxiety as teachers had started planning for off-site learning and students were gathering materials.

Winans has only had one positive case in the past two weeks, with no evidence of spread in the school, Sienkiewicz said. Park High, by comparison, has seen 12 new cases in the last two days and “very, very clear evidence of spread in the school,” she said.

“Our only strategy at this point, unfortunately, to slow this incredibly high transmission rate is to close and go off-site,” Sienkiewicz said. “My hope is we can hopefully reopen with a renewed collective sense of how we can work together to keep our schools safely open.”

The school district’s food service staff posted to Facebook that while PHS and SGMS students are off site, students or parents can pick up breakfast and lunch at either Washington School between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., or from the Park High School front oval from 11:10 a.m. until 11:45 a.m.

Staff will also distribute meals from the Park County Farm to School van, according to the Facebook post.