State agencies and local officials are working together to come up with plans on how to reopen schools this fall after the coronavirus pandemic required them to shut down in the spring.
The Smart Start working group is part of a COVID-19 task force started by Gov. Mark Gordon. It includes representatives from the local school districts, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) and the state's education department.
Stephanie Pyle, senior administrator of public health at WDH, said they're putting together flexible plans with options for schools: in-person classes, a mix of in-person and adapted learning, and adapted learning plans that would be similar to what schools used this past spring.
"We know that we will continue to see cases-we're seeing new cases daily. So, we just want to be able to prepare school districts so they can operate under any of those three scenarios in the least disruptive manner as possible," Pyle said.
The guidance document the group is working on will allow districts to move fluidly between the options if, for instance, COVID-19 cases were to rise in a certain community or county, said Wanda Maloney, Wyoming Department of Education's (WDE) director of accountability.
"I really do think it's going to be in coordination with local health officials as [schools] make that decision. We're planning to open, but it really depends on local health as we move forward," Maloney said.
Pyle said that she hopes the group's plans and guidance document will lay a foundation for school districts to make their own plans.
While many decisions will be made at the local level, all districts are working with the same major problems, Dicky Shanor, WDE's chief of staff, said.
"I would say probably the biggest challenge is the uncertainty going into this fall without a vaccine, how districts are going to handle an ever-evolving health scenario," Shanor said.
But Shanor added it's likely that the landscape of education is likely to change and include more technology moving forward because of how schools had to adapt during the pandemic.
Additionally, officials said they're trying to make social distancing measures work for schools.
"To the greatest extent possible, we want to see those measures that are really important to be in place, and yet we also need to be realistic with what kids can actually do and what makes sense in some of those settings, especially with younger kids where it may be harder," Pyle said.
The group will submit its plan to the larger COVID-19 taskforce by July 1.
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