With classes officially underway, administrators and staff are focused on providing students with a somewhat typical school year for 2021-22 while still adhering to protocols and guidelines designed to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.
“It’s our No. 1 goal to keep kids in school all year, every day,” Superintendent Susan Penrod said.
That is one of the district’s areas of focus when it comes to developing and implementing protocols. The other two are designed to uphold it: keeping students and staff healthy, and supporting students as they transition back into full-time learning in the building through social-emotional learning, instructional interventions and open communication with families and the community.
Many of the protocols in the district’s plan — presented before the board of directors and approved at the August meeting — mirror those in place during hybrid learning last school year and over the summer.
Face coverings are a requirement for all staff and students 5 and older, both on campus and when using bus transportation, regardless of vaccination status. This is not only a district guideline, but also in line with Oregon’s indoor mask mandate that went into effect last month.
However, the rule makes allowances for when people are actively eating or drinking, sleeping, playing a musical instrument that requires using the mouth, or engaging in a sport during physical education class or an extracurricular program where wearing a mask could be a strangulation hazard.
“We are full steam ahead for all of our fall sports,” Seaside Middle and High School Principal Jeff Roberts said. At both schools, that includes cross-country, volleyball and football. The high school also starts its soccer season.
Currently, student-athletes aren’t required to wear face coverings during sporting events. However, all spectators and personnel attending indoor athletic events are required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Roberts stressed the importance of adhering to these rules to enable the athletic programs to continue operating.
“We are going to protect the sanctity and opportunity for these kids,” he said.
The schools are also using district-developed protocols for entry and screening, cleaning and disinfecting, and visitors and volunteers. Students will be spaced 3 feet apart to the extent possible, and contact tracing procedures are in place with assistance from the local health authority. All classrooms are equipped with functioning air purifying systems.
The common areas are cleaned and disinfected multiple times per day, while the individual classrooms are fully sanitized at the end of day.
“Those were the protocols we used for summer school throughout the month of August and it was really successful,” Penrod said.
Meanwhile, the criteria for quarantine have changed. Last year, if a student was exposed to a COVID case, they were required to quarantine. This year, if a student was exposed but they were wearing a mask and not within 3 feet of the person, they are only required to quarantine if they exhibit symptoms.
Mandatory staff vaccinations
In August, the state also expanded its COVID-19 vaccine requirement to include all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools. The Seaside School District asked certified staff to file a religious or medical exception by Sept. 3. Classified staff were given until Sept. 10.
According to the state mandate, districts must ensure there are extra safety measures to protect unvaccinated staff and those around them, Penrod said. For the Seaside, that includes having unvaccinated staff members wear soft, folded N95 masks, maintain 6 feet of physical distance from colleagues and students, refrain from eating or drinking around other staff and students, and sign up for a weekly COVID testing program through the Oregon Health Authority.
As a whole, Penrod said, the district “has embraced vaccination.” About 90% of staff — including certified, classified and confidential employees and coaches — have received their vaccination.
“I feel like that 90% is going to go up,” she said.
Along with Penrod, the building administrators and school board members expressed a commitment to creating a robust academic experience for students, with an emphasis on in-person instruction.
“Now we can get everybody here, and that’s all we’re worried about,” board member Mark Truax said. “We’ve got too much catching up to do.”
Board member Brian Taylor agreed.
“Distance learning is not an option anymore,” he added. “We’ve got to keep these kids in school.”