All county schools return to in-person learning

Students, parents, teachers, and staff of the San Juan School District return to school on Thursday, August 19. 

Students in Montezuma Creek, Bluff, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain will be returning for in-person learning for the first time since winter 2020. The students at Bluff Elementary School will be welcomed to a brand-new school building.

The district held a school board meeting on August 11 and sent out their finalized reentry plan for the school year. That plan can be read in its entirety on page A3 of this issue of the San Juan Record.

All schools in the district will return for in-person learning on Thursday, August 19. As previously reported, secondary schools will have a new A/B schedule with classes beginning at 8:25 a.m.

Elementary schools also have modified bell schedules, with many in the district beginning at 8:20 a.m. The district is also doing away with late start Tuesday at all schools.

Much of the reentry plan revolves around COVID-19 protocols, with some portions applying to all schools in the district and others differing based on jurisdiction. 

In all areas of the district, no regular COVID-19 testing will be required for students that compete in athletic or extracurricular activities.

In addition, for schools with less than 1,500 students, state law has set the threshold for school closure at 30 total staff and student cases of COVID-19 at one time. No school surpassed more than 12 active cases at one time last year when mask mandates were in place.

If any school in the district reaches that threshold of 30 active cases, a test-to-stay process will be implemented, meaning all non-immunized students and staff must be tested to remain in school.

If a parent chooses to not have their child tested, the child will be required to quarantine from school for 10 to 14 days.

School District Superintendent Ron Nielson says schools plan to be transparent with data regarding COVID-19 cases.

“We are going to try to have a dashboard on our website [with] principals updating active cases in their schools in both regions,” said Nielson.

Some additional differing guidelines apply to the schools in Montezuma Creek, Bluff, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain, known as the River Region. In compliance with Navajo Nation Health Department guidelines, the schools in the River Region will have a face-covering mandate. 

Additionally in the River Region, Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) under the direction of the San Juan Health Department, will determine when students and/or staff members will be required to quarantine or isolate, with contact tracing to also be conducted by UNHS.

Face-coverings will not be mandated in the Mountain Region schools in La Sal, Monticello, and Blanding.

Thorough contact tracing will not be done following a positive test for COVID-19. However, parents will receive emails alerting them to a possible exposure if a child is in the same class as a student testing positive.

When it comes to mask wearing in Mountain Region schools, Nielson says they are working to make a comfortable environment for all.

“We want to be very proactive in creating a climate that face masks are a personal choice and both choices are appropriate and accepted,” said Nielson. “There should not be any negative attention given to it.”

State law passed this past spring prevents school districts from mandating masks. For a 30-day mask mandate to be in place, a local health district must recommend it.

The action must be approved by a county or state governing board of elected officials. This requirement doesn’t apply to schools under the direction of the Navajo Nation Health Department.

Southeastern Utah Health District and the Grand County Commission have approved a 30-day mask mandate for Kindergarten through sixth grade students in the Grand County School District to start the school year.

In Salt Lake County, the health department suggested a similar mandate, but it was rejected by the Salt Lake County Commission.

The full school return plan can be found on page A3 of this issue of the San Juan Record. A conversation with Superintendent Nielson on the Redrock Morning show can be accessed at Redrock92.com

At the August 11 meeting, the board also discussed plans to spend American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds received from the federal government. The district will have a three-year window to spend $6,455,610.

Using feedback received by students, staff, parents, and stakeholders, district staff proposed using the funds to temporarily fund additional resources for students.

In implementing the plan, each school in the district would work to develop a plan to support – schoolwide – administration, teachers, staff, students, and families.

The focus will be on the areas of physical, social, mental, and intellectual health. As part of the project, the district will hire several positions during the three-year timeframe. 

A large part of the $6.4 million would also be used to renovate the district conference center space, located in the old seminary building across from San Juan High School. 

Staff says renovating the building would open office space for those working through the grant and also provide a training space the district could utilize in the conference center.

At the meeting, school board members Lori Maughan and Merri Shumway questioned if renovating the building was the best use of funds when rental of office space could be cheaper and more flexible. 

District staff said the updated building would have benefit and use beyond the three-year ARPA funds. It could provide office spaces for future grant programs the district is continuously seeking. The board voted unanimously to move forward with the plan.

At the meeting, the board also approved a plan that will allow the only junior high school in the district to have multiple sports teams in the school. 

Nielson explained that participation numbers at Albert R Lyman Middle School in Blanding are so high in some activities that many students are not able to participate at all in sports like football. 

The board approved a plan that would allow certain larger programs at ARL to have two teams with different schedules to allow for additional opportunities for students at the middle school in Blanding.

San Juan Record

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Monticello, UT 84535

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