Students in pre-kindergarten through high school must wear face coverings while in school buildings or on buses, according to the Marble Falls Independent School District’s newly released Safe Start to School Plan. On Aug. 3, MFISD officials unveiled safety guidelines for in-person learning with a strong emphasis on protecting the health of students and staff by slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Requiring masks for younger children is one of the biggest changes from previous discussions on safety precautions the school district would most likely take. Students ages 10 and older are required by Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order to wear face coverings in public and on campuses. Under MFISD’s newly released plan, all students and staff will be required to wear face coverings, except those with underlying medical conditions that preclude masks. Teachers will give students a “mask break” every hour.
During a special meeting of the Marble Falls Independent School District board of trustees on July 31, Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen explained that he and other district administrators examined guidance from a number of organizations and government entities as they developed the new safety guidelines. They also gathered input from parents, staff, and campus leadership.
“There’s a focus on ‘stop the spread,’” Allen told the board members.
Based on 80 percent of students opting for in-person instruction rather than remote learning, the plan also covers hand washing, social distancing, and cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting campuses, classrooms, and buses at regular intervals.
Parents will be required to screen their children for COVID-19 prior to sending them to school and must let the district know if their family has come in contact with someone who has the disease.
“We emphasize they shouldn’t send a child to school with symptoms,” said Yarda Leflet, MFISD executive director of instructional services, during the board meeting. “If they have questions, call the school nurse.”
The same applies to staff, who must self-screen before going to work each day.
The district’s Safe Start to School Plan covers all areas of school and campus life, including daily cleaning and multiple cleaning of high-traffic and high-touch areas. Leflet said the district will adjust drop-off and dismissal to limit the number of people congregating before and after school. Even student traffic between classes or when transitioning is addressed in the new rules.
Some of the classroom adaptations include:
- increasing space between desks
- removing optional furniture
- incorporating outdoor learning when possible
- supervising hand washing twice a day
- reducing the number of handouts
- limiting shared supplies
- replacing water fountains with bottle refill stations
- limiting the number of items that travel back and forth from school and home
- sanitizing recess equipment throughout the day
- monitoring for COVID-19 throughout the day
If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the district will notify all teachers, staff, and families of students in the school. Students and staff who come in close contact, as defined by the Burnet County Local Health Authority, with a COVID-19-positive individual will be directed to self-quarantine for 14 days. In-person learning students in quarantine will be expected to transition to remote learning.
Those who test positive for the disease or experience symptoms of COVID-19 must stay home during the infection period and cannot return to campus until certain criteria are met.
The classrooms of any COVID-19 case will be deep cleaned and students might be moved to another location for a period of time. Administration will consult with the county health authority when someone has tested positive for COVID-19 to decide if a class or building needs to be closed.
Teachers and staff will regularly instruct students on the health and safety protocols, including best hand washing procedures. The district will have signs and other reminders posted around campuses as another way to re-emphasize safety guidelines.
All that being said, the released plan could change based on government directives, public health authority information, and advancing scientific knowledge on COVID-19’s transmission. The plan will be reviewed at regular intervals with changes and modifications likely.
“We really encourage parents to pay attention to school communication,” Allen said. “There will be lots of adjustments as we go.”