While the Papillion La Vista Community Schools’ plan to open the 2021–2022 academic year emphasizes the need to return to “business as usual,” board members and PLCS staff made clear the strategy introduced last Monday is fluid.
“This is our plan as of July 12, 2021,” said PLCS Superintendent Andy Rikli. “Things can and probably will change between now and the start of school. Infection rates could go up. The Delta variant could become more problematic than we think. There a hundred things that can and likely will happen.”
As if on cue, things have changed.
In introducing the school opening plan, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Shureen Seery referred to the Sarpy/Cass Health Department website as tracking 20 cases of COVID-19 in Sarpy and Cass Counties as of Monday evening. By Saturday, SCHD reported the number had reached 54 cases, with 50 in Sarpy County. Of those, 21 were in the Papillion-La Vista school district.
Further, half of the 54 cases were under the age of 40, and seven cases were school-aged children between five- to 19 years old. Sarpy County follows a nationwide trend, with the Center for Disease Control reporting a 70% increase in coronavirus infections in one week.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing on Friday that COVID-19 is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The SCHD reports slightly more than 50% of Sarpy County residents — 89,312 — have been fully vaccinated (not including vaccines provided by the U.S. military.) 90% of PLCS staff is vaccinated.
Seery said the administration is prepared for multiple contingencies. The plan proposed incorporates lessons learned over the pandemic, and is in many ways what the district has utilized for current summer school programs. There have been no coronavirus infections of students or staff thus far.
When school opens on August 12, Papillion-La Vista students and staff have the option not to wear masks. This includes on buses.
Social distancing will also no longer be required in middle and high schools. However, grade schools will continue to observe the “three-foot rule” during lunch, whether in cafeterias or classrooms. Seery said because children under 12 have not been approved for coronavirus vaccinations yet — but “you can’t eat with a mask on” — this measure tries to meet the needs of all families. Lunch visitors will continue to be restricted in grade schools for the time being.
After consultation with the health department, teachers, staff and parents, some “best practices” adopted during the pandemic will remain:
• The cleaning protocols — including custodial disinfection of “high touch” areas; students and teachers wiping down desktops at least twice a day; and supplies available for students to clean their own work areas as desired — have shown useful in cutting down on a variety of infectious disease.
• Hand sanitizers will be readily available, and time has been built-in to the daily schedule for hand washing.
• Drinking fountains will remain off. Students are encouraged to bring bottles for refilling.
• Air quality standards, including new HVAC filters, will continue to be improved.
• For at least the next year, the USDA will provide free, basic lunches for all students. Other student programs providing financial assistance are available, and can be applied for at plcschools.org/Page/1720.
For the most part, all other activities and routines will be much the same as before the pandemic. Normal start and dismissal times are back. Lockers will return.
The school opening plan also addresses the havoc created during the past year. The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Joe Biden in March, contains funding for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III). The ESSER III funds allow schools to implement strategies to meet students’ social, emotional, mental health and academic needs.
PLCS will use ESSER III funding to address student learning loss and any intervention it may require, personnel needs and training, curriculum resources and facility upgrades.
Seery said feedback on the plan from the community has been positive, with a particular concern for student mental health.
“We will continue to look and tweak and do what we need to do to keep our families and our students and our staff safe, but our thinking as of today is that this is the best plan that we have,” Rikli said.
Other news from the school board meeting:
• The storms that swept through eastern Nebraska on July 10 caused some damage to PLCS facilities. La Vista Middle School has significant roof problems, leading to leaks causing the school’s wood floors to warp. Papillion La Vista South High School also saw rooftop damage. Officials are assessing the districts other properties.
• Brett Richards, former superintendent of the Springfield Platteview Schools, assumed his new position as assistant superintendent of business services on July 1.
• A number of addendums to PLCS policy were approved, mostly to clarify or update language.
The next PLCS Board of Education meeting will be held on July 26 at 6 p.m. at the central office, 420 S. Washington St. in Papillion.