The Stillwater Board of Education had more questions than answers Thursday as it wrestled with the details of what school will look like when it starts. Stillwater Public Schools had announced the board could be pushing its anticipated start date for the fall semester one to two weeks later, but had a lot to consider before changing the date.
Several board members said they had received emails from parents who encouraged them to push it much later, to after Labor Day, and from parents who advocated for opening by Aug. 20 at the latest.
The board discussed its effect on students who are enrolled at other institutions, teacher professional development days, the length of holiday breaks and how much it would extend the school year.
They ultimately decided to set Aug. 17 as the day teachers report for work and Aug. 20 as the first day of school.
Superintendent Marc Moore said the district needed at least one extra week to plan and prepare after getting final enrollment numbers and seeing how many students will be doing distance learning.
Cases of illness at individual school sites will be continuously monitored and decisions about going online will be made based on that, he said.
They also adopted an amended plan for Operations, intending to further study face mask requirements for Pre-K and Kindergarten students, and the plan for Academic Services.
The board heard from a team of representatives from Stillwater Medical, CEO Denise Webber, Dr. Donald Crawley, Dr. Malinda Webb and Director of Infection Prevention and Control Necia Kimber.
Kimber is assisting many entities with their COVID-19 response plans and has become a fixture at local board meetings as they address questions about wearing masks and other ways to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Kimber said she has reviewed opening plans for eight different schools so far.
Social distancing, hand washing and most of all, wearing face coverings, are the three components of the approach Crawley called “the tripod of safety.”
A task force formed by the school district to make recommendations for opening school sites has recommended that mask wearing be adopted at all grade levels.
Board member Camille DeYong expressed concerns about the practicality of keeping masks on 4 and 5 year olds and how the disruption of normal procedures could affect their school experience.
“I just want them to like to come to school,” DeYong said. “I can’t even imagine.”
The board members said they were reassured by information the medical team provided about how exposure is defined.
The CDC says it’s being less than 6 feet from someone without wearing a mask for 15 minutes. Stillwater Medical and the Payne County Health Department have lowered that time frame to 10 minutes, meaning even if a child removes their mask for a minute or two, it’s not so critical.
Hand washing will also be critical, Crawley told the board.
The board discussed a variety of ways to provide more distance between students.
DeYong said the district may need to get creative to reduce classroom sizes and asked if Pre-K classes could be relocated to alternative sites to free up space in elementary schools.
Webb said realistically it will be hard with 4 and 5 year olds, but reminded the board “This is about mitigation, not elimination.”
Children under 10 don’t seem to spread COVID-19 among themselves or bring it home, she said. But the 10-19 age range seems to spread about the same as adults.
Flexibility is going to be important amid constantly changing circumstances.
“The crystal ball is broken,” Crawley said. “We have no way of predicting the future. The two words I use most often are ‘fluid’ and ‘flexible.’”